Five visions, twelve commandments, or mandates, and ten parables, or similitudes, make up the second-century Shepherd of Hermas. The visions vividly describe several revelations to Hermas and offer some biographical hints bout the author’s life. The first vision suggests that Hermas had once been a slave:

The one who raised me sold me to a certain Rhoda at Rome. Many years later, I became reacquainted with her and began to love her as a sister. After some time, as she was bathing in the river Tiber, I saw her, gave her my hand, and brought her out of the river. Seeing her beauty, I thought in my heart: “How happy I would be if I had such a wife, both in regard to beauty and manner.” I wanted only this, nothing more.

After some time, as I was on my way into the countryside and glorying in the greatness, splendor and power of God’s creatures, I became drowsy as I walked along…. Kneeling, I began to pray to the Lord and confess my sins. As I was praying, heaven opened, and I saw that woman upon whom I had set my heart, greeting me from heaven with: “Hello, Hermas!”

Looking up at her, I said: “Lady, what are you doing here?”

But she answered: “I was taken up in order to reproach you for your sins before the Lord.”…

…[Later,] as I was reflecting on what had happened and discerning in my heart, I saw in front of me …an older woman in a shining robe…. She sat down by herself and greeted me: “Hello, Hermas.”

Sad and weeping, I said: “Hello, lady.”

She said to me: “Why are you so downcast, Hermas? The courageous, good-natured one who is always laughing—why are you so long-faced and not joyful?”

I said to her: “On account of a wonderful woman who says I sinned against her.”

She said: “In no way should this happen to the servant of God! Though certainly it did enter your heart about her. It is an intention like this that brings sin to the servants of God. It is an evil and terrible intention against a distinguished and tested spirit for someone to lust after an evil deed, especially Hermas the continent, who abstains from all evil desires and is filled with simplicity and great innocence.”

(Vision 1.1.1–5, 1.2.2–4—translation by Carolyn Osiek)