Date of Award
Religious and Theological Studies
Fugitive, New Testament, Onesimus, Paul, Philemon, Slave
Author: Ryan Lokkesmoe
Title: Finding Onesimus: Recovering the Story of a First-Century Fugitive Slave
Advisor: Pamela Eisenbaum
Degree Date: August 2015
This dissertation is an investigation into the experience of a first-century fugitive slave named Onesimus, who is known to us primarily through Paul’s letter to Philemon (Phlm) in the New Testament. Within this broader purpose, this project challenges a popular historical theory for Onesimus’ flight, the so-called Amicus Domini theory. This is the theory that Onesimus fled his master Philemon with the premeditated intention of seeking out the Apostle Paul as a peacemaker in a conflict Onesimus was having with Philemon. The Amicus Domini theory is accepted by many scholars, though rarely discussed in detail or examined critically.
The goal of this project is to offer a more probable historical reconstruction of Onesimus’ flight – one that takes better stock of the available evidence (historical, textual, archaeological, legal, and rhetorical). This project is rooted in the sub-discipline of the Historical Critical method, though rhetorical analysis is applied as well.
This study offers a translation and commentary of Phlm, as well as an examination of Paul’s rhetoric in the letter. Other sources that specifically mention Onesimus are also investigated, e.g. Colossians, ancient Christian commentators, and the subscriptions in the manuscripts. The project also examines slavery in the Ancient Mediterranean world with a view toward understanding what most slaves experienced, and especially fugitive slaves. Roman law of slavery is also discussed, as well as the estimated travel times and cost of Onesimus’ journey (whether from Colossae to Rome, Caesarea Maritima, or Ephesus).
There are many factors that are problematic for the Amicus Domini theory, e.g. the duration of Onesimus’ journey, the financial cost to Philemon, and the fact that the documents typically used to support the Amicus Domini theory (Pliny’s letters to Sabinianus and the writings of Roman jurists) do not comport with the data in Phlm. This dissertation offers a modified theory for Onesimus’ predicament: Amicus Domini Ex Post Facto. Onesimus did not leave Philemon intending to seek out Paul and reconcile with Philemon, but he eventually decided to seek help long after the fact. This historical reconstruction makes better sense of the evidence, and provides a clearer view of what Onesimus faced during his flight.
Lokkesmoe, Ryan, "Finding Onesimus: Recovering the Story of a First-Century Fugitive Slave" (2015). Electronic Theses and Dissertations. 1039.
Recieved from ProQuest
Biblical studies, Religion, Theology