New Testament Studies

Love of Enemies in the Context of Antiquity a

a1 Fachbereich Katholische Theologie, Johannes Gutenberg-Universität, 55099 Mainz, Germany


Do we find the principle of ‘loving one's enemies’ or precursors thereof in pre-Christian antiquity? In the Greco-Roman tradition we find as a common maxim ‘helping friends and harming enemies’ combined with the talio and the Golden Rule. Only Socrates and some Roman stoics recommend never to take revenge. In the OT Lev 19.18 may possibly be interpreted as a commandment of loving one's enemies. The first to have understood Lev 19.18 in this sense seems to be Jesus. Christians have too rarely lived up to his commandment.


a Lecture delivered at the Faculty of Theology of the Lund University on 5 March 2001. I have to thank Barbara Thomas, Rottenburg a.N., for the translation of my German manuscript.