"They Pierced Themselves with Many Pains": Pain Experience and the Rhetoric of Self-Harm in 1 Timothy

"For the love of money, which some have desperately yearned for and have been misled away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains, is a root of all evils" (1 Timothy 6:10). This proverbial statement, destined for a long afterlife, was penned by the author of 1 Timothy in the early second century CE as a part of a larger argument designed to convince his readers of the pathological danger of opponents who "promulgate deviant teaching" (ἑτεροδιδασκαλεῖν). While most scholars have focused on this verse's proverbial qualities or its place in the broader philosophical tradition of polemic against wealth, my study focuses on the striking imagery of self-wounding and pain. In this paper, I will demonstrate the role of 1 Timothy 6:9–10 within its immediate context (1 Timothy 6:3–10) in 1 Timothy, a pseudepigraphic Pauline letter that draws heavily on medical imagery in order to sanction "Paul's" promulgation of the "healthy teaching" and stigmatize all other teachings as contrary to it. Next, I shall demonstrate the pertinence of ancient medical and philosophical sources in providing comparable examples with the author’s rhetorical connection of desire for wealth and the experience of self-inflicted pain. I argue that roughly contemporaneous authors, such as Philodemus, Seneca, Plutarch, and Galen, aid us in locating the author’s depiction of self-inflicted suffering. In my analysis of pain in 1 Timothy, I also advocate a more holistic, psychophysical approach to the concepts of pain and illness. I argue that we are dealing with psychic or emotional pain, but one that is still of a psychosomatic nature. The anguish experienced as a result of the pathological desire for money is narrated as being felt in the mind and in the body. We do well to avoid the facile bifurcation of pain felt in the body and pain felt in the mind. The distress described by the author was a holistic experience of sickness and suffering. Lastly, I address the sociocultural context of pain depiction in the early Imperial period, as well as the specific rhetorical goals of the Pastor's claim. I analyze what functions the opponents' pain might have played in the sociocultural complex in which it was narrated and offer perspective on where this characterization of pain fits in the broader imperial literary landscape's depiction of pain experience. Scholars such as Judith Perkins have argued that suffering and pain were being used in expressions of identity and the construction of the self with new emphases in the early Imperial period. As a document of the early second century CE, 1 Timothy should be viewed as contributing to these emerging modes of pain narration. More recently, Daniel King has observed that "perception of pain is a sociocultural phenomenon." This necessitates an examination of how this particular instance of pain and its depiction is meant to function with relationship to the audience, author, and the broader ancient Greco-Roman world. Please consider for the session “The Experience of Pain: Body, Sense, and Violence.”