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Over the past three decades there has been an intense scholarly concentration on the problematic of poverty and riches in Christian late antiquity and the possibilities of achieving happiness, whether eternal or temporary, for both the poor and the rich. Mostly, the topic has been considered in a top-down model, whereby the authoritative pronounce-ments of prominent bishops in their preaching, letter-writing and theological works on poverty and riches (and on almsgiving as a route to happiness for both rich and poor) have been taken as normative.1 In this paper, it is my intention to contrast this approach with a bottom-up model, by looking at the everyday problems expressed by ‘little people’ in their struggles either to divest themselves of money or to acquire it. In particular, I shall study two works from the question-and-answer genre (erotapokriseis), one a collection of letters posted in sixth-century Palestine to two ‘Old Men’ with queries pertaining to happiness, and the other a volume of questions and answers preserved in the works of a monk from Mt Sinai in the 7th century. In both these works the merits and mechanics of almsgiving as a means to happiness, especially of the eternal variety, are treated in some detail.


Institute for Religion and Critical Inquiry

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Journal Article

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