If a poll were to be taken on the least attractive church father of all time, Epiphanius of Cyprus would certainly be in the running. His infamy rests primarily on his massive heresiology, the Panarion (ca. 377), which he presents as a totalizing “medicine chest” of antidotes for those bitten by the serpents of the eighty heresies cataloged and refuted therein. If witch-hunting were as prized today as it was in the fourth century, we would perhaps judge his intellectual talents as far more praiseworthy. But Epiphanius is also detested for instigating, in the 390s, a new phase of the campaign against Origen, the darling of late-antiquity scholars, a campaign whose collateral damage included the persecution of the much beloved John Chrysostom. In modern scholarship Epiphanius has thus been routinely maligned as hell-bent on sniffing out heresy wherever it could be found, fanatical, narrow-minded, intransigent, aggressive, theologically inept, and even given to buffoonery. But is there more to this figure than these caricatures suggest? Have we failed to appreciate and understand Epiphanius because he does not fit into the typical categories used to analyze late antiquity? Indeed, is our understanding of late antiquity challenged if we account for the respect accorded to Epiphanius and his influence?
These are some of the primary questions that drive the recent books by Young Richard Kim and Andrew Jacobs, which are, incredibly, the first two monographs on the Cypriot bishop in English. Their respective projects of reassessment are complementary. Kim undertakes a “critical biography” in which he disentangles the historical Epiphanius from his self-fashioned rhetorical persona, depicting him as far more complicated, imaginative, insightful, and interesting than the caricatures would have us believe. Jacobs presents us with a “cultural biography,” in which he approaches Epiphanius through contemporary theoretical lenses, not only offering fascinating new perspectives on the man himself as he performed his Christian and episcopal identities in unusual ways, but also using Epiphanius to problematize our constructions of late antiquity itself.
Given this reassessment of Epiphanius in the world of late antique scholarship, the Development of Early Christian Theology section organized a review panel to celebrate the publication of these two books, to evaluate and discuss their contributions, and to chart possible avenues forward in the study of Epiphanius. Since it is often the case that those who attend review panels have not yet had the chance to read the book(s) under discussion, our section begins its review panel with an “introduction” to the books. These are not intended to be critical reactions, but rather to give a sense of their contents and approach, in order to make the remarks of the panelists even more meaningful. Young Richard Kim and Andrew Jacobs graciously agreed to provide such an introduction to each other’s book. The section’s steering committee assembled a panel of scholars with varied perspectives and scholarly approaches: Annette Yoshiko Reed, Lewis Ayres, Rebecca Lyman, and Jon Dechow. We are very grateful for their participation in this review panel—especially since it required reading two books instead of one!
"Andrew takes us from present theory to past subject and ultimately brings us back to the present, rendering us the subject, and challenges us, the reader, to ponder our assumptions about what Late Antiquity was and is and how the pieces of our extant puzzle fit into it."
Out of the Shadows: An introduction to Young Richard Kim's Epiphanius of Cyprus: Imagining an Orthodox World
"Young’s main instrument in this task is close and contextual readings of key scenes in Epiphanius's master-work, the heresiographic Panarion, as autobiographical moments that allowed Epiphanius to imagine an orthodox world and his own central place in it."
"In effect, then, both biographies unsettle the very presumption that underpins the genre—that is, confidence in the possibility of recovering enough of the life and experiences of a person to recount as a narrative in writing. The inner life and experiences of Epiphanius here remain bracketed. What is written, instead, is the story of his performed and constructed persona, in the case of Kim, and his iconicity and celebrity, in the case of Jacobs."
"These violent images of the punishment and execution of dehumanized and embodied cognitive errors are the signs of a religious movement marked by dissent and disorder. Epiphanius, therefore, gives us a shameless and corporeal fantasy of exactly what is not happening in 370s after Julian and under the policies of Valens: the defeat and mastery of all error, whether idolatry or heresy. The contemporary proliferation of spiritual violence called forth the shameless exorcist, who fused disputation with death. "