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Hermas (Shepherd of Hermas)

Role: Literate Worker

Gender: Male

Date: Late-first to early second century CE

Place: Rome

Language: Greek

Literary Genre: Apocalypse; Revelation Dialogue

Title of Work: Shepherd of Hermas

Reference: Herm. Vis. 2.1.3–4 (5.3–4); 2.4.3 (8.3); 5.5–6 (25.5–6)

Original Text:

λέγω αὐτῇ· Κυρία, τοσαῦτα μνημονεῦσαι οὐ δύναμαι· δὸς δέ μοι τὸ βιβλίδιον, ἵνα μεταγράψωμαι αὐτό. Λάβε, φησίν, καὶ ἀποδώσεις μοι. 4 ἔλαβον ἐγώ, καὶ εἰς τινα τόπον τοῦ ἀγροῦ ἀναχωρήσας μετεγραψάμην πάντα πρὸς γράμμα· οὐχ ηὕρισκον γὰρ τὰς συλλαβάς. τελέσαντος οὖν τὰ γράμματα τοῦ βιβλιδίου ἐξαίφνης ἡρπάγη μου ἐκ τῆς χειρὸς τὸ βιβλίδιον· ὑπὸ τίνος δὲ οὐκ εἶδον. (Herm. Vis. 2.1.3–4 [5.3–4])

γράψεις οὖν δύο βιβλαρίδια καὶ πέμψεις ἓν Κλήμεντι καὶ ἓν Γραπτῇ. πέμψει οὖν Κλήμης εἰς τὰς ἔξω πόλεις, ἐκείνῳ γὰρ ἐπιτέτραπται. Γραπτὴ δὲ νουθετήσει τὰς χήρας καὶ τοὺς ὀρφανούς. σὺ δε ἀναγνώσῃ εἰς ταύτην τὴν πόλιν μετὰ τῶν πρεσβυτέρων τῶν προϊσταμένων τῆς ἐκκλησίας. (Herm. Vis. 2.4.3 [8.3])

ἀπεστάλην γάρ, φησίν, ἵνα ἃ εἶδες πρότερον πάντα σοι πάλιν δείξω, αὐτὰ τὰ κεφάλαια τὰ ὄντα ὑμῖν σύμφορα. πρῶτον πάντων τὰς ἐντολάς μου γράψον καὶ τάς παραβολάς· τὰ δὲ ἕτερα καθώς σοι δείξω οὕτως γράψεις· διὰ τοῦτο, φησίν, ἐντέλλομαί σοι πρῶτον γράψαι τὰς ἐντολὰς καὶ παραβολάς, ἵνα ὑπὶ χεῖρα ἀναγινώσκῃς αὐτὰς καἰ δυνηθῇς φυλάξαι αὐτάς. 6 ἔγραψα οὖν τὰς ἐντολὰς καὶ παραβολάς, καθὼς ἐνετείλατό μοι. (Herm. Vis. 5.5–6 [25.5–6])

English Translation:

I said to her [i.e., the Ekklesia]: “Lady, I am not able to remember so many things. Give me the little book, so that I can copy it.” “Take it,” she said, “and return it to me.” I took it and, having gone to some place in the field, I copied it letter by letter, since I could not find the syllables. When I finished the letters of the little book, suddenly the little book was snatched from my hand—by whom, I did not see. (Herm. Vis. 2.1.3–4 [5.3–4])

Therefore, write two little books and send one to Clement and the other to Grapte. Then Clement will send it to the outer cities, since it is entrusted to him. But Grapte will instruct the widows and orphans. And you will read it in the city with the presbyters who preside over the assembly. (Herm. Vis. 2.4.3 [8.3])

“For I was sent,” he [i.e., the Shepherd] said, “that I might show you everything that you saw previously, the most important points that are beneficial for you. First of all, write down my commandments and parables, and write down the other things as I show them to you. Therefore,” he said, “I command you first to write down the commandments and parables, in order that you might read them immediately and might keep them.” So, I wrote down the commandments and parables, just as he commanded me. (Herm. Vis. 5.5–6 [25.5–6])


Hermas is the protagonist, first-person narrator, and likely author of the Shepherd of Hermas. The Shepherd is a long and complex revelation dialogue that centers an enslaved or formerly enslaved man named Hermas, who experiences a set of visions and divine encounters with the Ekklesia and the Shepherd just outside of Rome. The Shepherd is a rare early Christian text that claims to be composed by a (formerly) enslaved person, and that depicts its own composition as a key part of the narrative itself. 

The text opens by describing Hermas’s (former) enslavement as a household enslaved person (verna), sold to a Roman woman named Rhoda (Herm. Vis. 1.1.1–2 [1.1–2]) and his later encounter with Rhoda while she was bathing in the Tiber River. Throughout the Visions (the first 25 chapters of the Shepherd), Hermes is portrayed as a literate worker who is involved in copying written texts, receiving oral dictation to write down, distributing literature to others in his early Christian network, and reading and interpreting literature for an assembled audience. The level of Hermas’s literacy is debated because of the self-description of his inability to comprehend the syllables in the Ekklesia’s little book.

The name “Hermas” is a variant of Hermes, and was a name often given to enslaved and formerly enslaved persons in the ancient Mediterranean (e.g., CIL 4 4512; CIL 6 8960; CIL 11 6947).

Keywords: Apostolic Fathers; Christian; Literate Worker

Related Entries: Clement; Grapte


Bonar, Chance Everett. “Enslaved to God: Slavery and Divine Despotics in the Shepherd of Hermas.” PhD dissertation, Harvard University, 2023.

Bonar, Chance Everett. “Hermas the (Formerly?) Enslaved: Rethinking Manumission and Hermas’s Biography in the Shepherd of Hermas.” Early Christianity 13.2 (2022): 205–226.

Kartzow, Marianna Bjelland. “The Former Slave Hermas, Lady Church and ‘the Book.’” Pages 195–213 in Experiencing the Shepherd of Hermas. Edited by Angela Kim Harkins and Harry O. Maier. Ekstasis 10. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2022.

Proctor, Travis W. “Books, Scribes, and the Cultures of Reading in the Shepherd of Hermas.” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 73.3 (2022): 461–479.

How to Cite:

Bonar, Chance E. “Hermas (Shepherd of Hermas).” Ancient Enslaved Christians. Accessed DAY MONTH YEAR. <URL>.



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