Cretans: Stereotypes in the letter to Titus (early second century CE)

Citation with stable link: Maia Kotrosits, 'Cretans: Stereotypes in the letter to Titus (early second century CE),' Ethnic Relations and Migration in the Ancient World, last modified April 2, 2023,

Ancient author: Author writing in the name of Paul, Letter to Titus 1:5-13 (link to Greek text and full LEB translation).

Comments (by Maia Kotrosits): Cretans are evoked in this epistle ostensibly from Paul to Titus, who is imagined to be living on the island of Crete. The author writing in the name of Paul attempts to describe, by contrast to the stereotyped Cretan, the ideal “overseer” for local towns. This provides an example of how early Jesus adherents might incidentally employ common ethnic stereotypes for particular purposes. In particular, Cretans were among the Greek peoples who were more often marginalized as semi-barbaric by Athenians and others (on which, for instance, see Polybios’ views at this link). The author of the letter to Titus directly quotes Epimenides of Crete, as also cited in Clement of Alexandria, Tapestries 1.14.59 (link).

Source of the translation: Translation by Maia Kotrosits


This is the reason I left you behind in Crete, so that you might put in order what was left to be done and appoint elders in every town, as I directed you: someone who is blameless, married only once, whose children are believers, not accused of debauchery and not insubordinate. For as God’s steward, an overseer must be blameless; he must not be stubborn or hot tempered or addicted to wine or violent or greedy for gain, but he must be hospitable, a lover of goodness, self-controlled, upright, holy, and disciplined, holding tightly to the faithful word of the teaching, so that he may be able both to encourage with sound instruction and to expose those who contradict it.

There are also many rebellious people, empty talkers and deceivers, especially those among the circumcised. They must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole households by teaching for shameful gain what it is not right to teach. It was one of them, their very own prophet [i.e. Epimenides of Crete], who said, “Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, lazy gluttons.” That testimony is true. . .

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