Hypatia of Alexandria

Teaching the early history of Christianity is a very tricky thing, especially in a survey course. You basically have only one shot at whatever aspect of the history you think needs including–whether it’s the current state of knowledge on the “Jesus of History,” Paul’s travels, the spread of Christianity into Persia, the persecutions in the Roman empire, the gradual spread Christianity in the empire, church councils and issues of doctrine, Christian/Jewish relations, and of course what happens after the empire formally recognizes Christianity and those who were persecuted find themselves in positions of power. It’s a lot to do in…a week? Especially when you also have the whole 3rd-century-crisis-plus-debate-over-the-late-empire to deal with.

One of the case studies I’m going to use this semester is the murder of Hypatia of Alexandria in 415. It showcases how politicized and violent Christian churches could be, fully caught up in the contest for power and influence; the abysmal relations between Jews and Christians; the state of science and education in the late empire; the situation of women in the empire; and the different perspectives of the incident’s historians. Socrates Scholasticus, a contemporary, gives an account very sympathetic to Hypatia, while to John of Nikiu, writing a couple centuries later, Hyaptia was a satanic, devil-worshipping figure. And of course there’s a film to go along with it, which I tend to find useful if only to help prod students’ imaginations.

Here’s a run-down of resources for the exercise (which I’ll do in class, not as homework):

Hypatia of Alexandria: Film, Agora

Wikipedia: Hypatia

Socrates of Constantinople, 380-439, Socrates of Constantinople

Socrates’ chronicle, Book VII, Chapters 13-17, http://www.newadvent.org/fathers/26017.htm

John of Nikiu, c.700 https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_of_Niki%C3%BB


Nikiu’s chronicle, chapter 84, section 87, http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/nikiu2_chronicle.htm (you’ll have to scroll down the page–chapters are in Roman numerals)