© 2017

The Care of the Self in Early Christian Texts


Part of the The Bible and Cultural Studies book series (TBACS)

About this book


This book presents the first three Christian centuries through the lens of what Foucault called “the care of the self.” This lens reveals a rich variation among early Christ movements by illuminating their practices instead of focusing on what we anachronistically assume to have been their beliefs. A deep analysis of the discourse of martyrdom demonstrates how writers like Clement, Ignatius, and Polycarp represented as self-care. Deborah Niederer Saxon brings to light an entire spectrum of alternative views represented in newly-discovered texts from Nag Hammadi and elsewhere. This insightful analysis has implications for feminist scholarship and exposes the false binary of thinking in terms of “orthodoxy” versus “heresy”/”Gnosticism.”


Early Christ gnosticism Clement Ignatius Polycarp Judas

Authors and affiliations

  1. 1.Butler UniversityIndianapolisUSA

About the authors

Deborah Niederer Saxon teaches at Butler University, USA. She researches newly-discovered Christian texts, women’s voices and the inclusive perspectives they reveal, and the intersection of gender and religion.  She serves on the board of Christian Feminism Today, as the Tanho Center Vice Chair, and is a Westar Fellow/Board Member.

Bibliographic information

  • Book Title The Care of the Self in Early Christian Texts
  • Authors Deborah Niederer Saxon
  • Series Title The Bible and Cultural Studies
  • Series Abbreviated Title The Bible and Cultural Studies
  • DOI
  • Copyright Information The Editor(s) (if applicable) and The Author(s) 2017
  • Publisher Name Palgrave Macmillan, Cham
  • eBook Packages Religion and Philosophy Philosophy and Religion (R0)
  • Hardcover ISBN 978-3-319-64749-4
  • Softcover ISBN 978-3-319-87861-4
  • eBook ISBN 978-3-319-64750-0
  • Edition Number 1
  • Number of Pages XV, 213
  • Number of Illustrations 1 b/w illustrations, 0 illustrations in colour
  • Topics Biblical Studies
    Philosophy of Religion
    Sociology of Religion
  • Buy this book on publisher's site


“This is an impressive and persuasive study that re-conceptualizes the place of martyrdom in early Christian writings. Incorporating both canonical and extra-canonical sources, Saxon displays the wide variety of attitudes Christians held with respect to both the ‘care of the self’ and to martyrdom in the early period. Saxon’s study should prompt scholars to move beyond thinking of early Christianity in the simple dichotomy of ‘orthodoxy’ and ‘heresy.’ As Saxon recognizes, ‘rethinking the history of early Christ-related movements by re-conceptualizing them as offering competing, sometimes complementary, perspectives on the care of the self rather than a history of doctrine characterized by a false binary opposition between orthodoxy and heresy can be a means of escaping the limitations of prescribed ways of thinking in a postmodern, pluralistic age.’ Saxon has written an important study that should make an impact on future studies of early Christian martyrdom.” (Judith Perkins, University of Saint Joseph, USA)

“In a world full of self-help and self-care books so prevalent in society today, it is refreshing to see how Dr. Saxon, returning to original language source material from the first three centuries of Christianity explores how the early church defined care of the self as more than having some ‘me time.’  She compares the early church to Greco--Roman philosophies of care of the self, as well as the church’s view of martyrdom as care for the self or soul in light of the resurrection.  In addition, she contrasts perspectives of care of the self among women in the early church.  The results are insightful, inspirational, and eye-opening with profound implications for helping us find the courage to speak truth to power today.  It is a must read.” (Ann Graham Brock, Author of Mary Magdalene, the First Apostle: The Struggle for Authority, USA)