No extant text gives so vivid a glimpse into the experience of an ancient prisoner as Paul's letter to the Philippians. As a letter from prison, however, it is not what one would expect. For although it is true that Paul, like some other ancient prisoners, speaks in Philippians of his yearning
for death, what he expresses most conspicuously is contentment and even joy. Setting aside pious banalities that contrast true joy with happiness, and leaving behind too heroic depictions that take their cue from Acts, Abject Joy
offers a reading of Paul's letter as both a means and an artifact of
his provisional attempt to make do. By outlining the uses of punitive custody in the administration of Rome's eastern provinces and describing the prison's complex place in the social and moral imagination of the Greek and Roman world, Ryan Schellenberg provides a richly drawn account of Paul's
nonelite social context, where bodies and their affects were shaped by acute contingency and habitual susceptibility to violent subjugation. Informed by recent work in the history of emotions, and with comparison to modern prison writing and ethnography provoking new questions and insights,
Schellenberg describes Paul's letter as an affective technology, wielded at once on Paul himself and on his addressees, that works to strengthen his grasp on the very joy he names. Abject Joy: Paul, Prison, and the Art of Making Do
by Ryan S. Schellenberg is a social history of prison in the Greek and Roman world that takes Paul's letter to the Philippians as its focal instance--or, to put it the other way around, a study of Paul's letter to the Philippians that takes the
reality of prison as its starting point. Examining ancient perceptions of confinement, and placing this ancient evidence in dialogue with modern prison writing and ethnography, it describes Paul's urgent and unexpectedly joyful letter as a witness to the perplexing art of survival under constraint.