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Godly Fear: The Epistle to the Hebrews and Greco-Roman Critiques of Superstition
Patrick Gray
AcBib 16
Publication Date
February 2004


To what extent was early Christianity viewed as superstition by its contemporaries? Superstition was the standard category in Greco-Roman antiquity for defaming “debased” religion, and to situate early Christianity in its Mediterranean milieu it is necessary to understand what this label meant to those who used it. Fear is the defining element of superstition, according to writers such as Plutarch, who regarded the emotion as a fundamental human problem. Fear is likewise a recurring motif in the Epistle to the Hebrews, whose author holds up “confidence” as a Christian ideal yet also employs language that evokes fear in the starkest of terms. This work examines the articulation of Christian faith in Hebrews in the context of ancient debates about the propriety of fear.

“Gray's analysis of fear in Hebrews is as stimulating and challenging as his distinctions between appropriate and inappropriate fear is interesting and engaging.”
Catholic Biblical Quarterly

Patrick Gray is Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at Rhodes College in Memphis, Tennessee.