This article examines certain types of narrative from rabbinical sources and how they relate both to forms of social life and to expectations of Greco-Roman narrative, genre, and normativity. It situates them within the context of the writings of Hellenistic Judaism and to the adoption of Greco-Roman models by what becomes the dominant religious authority of the Christians. It also explores the particularity of the textual world of the Talmud as an issue of the construction and performance of subjectivity and concludes by highlighting the importance of the connection between narrative and lived experience for rabbinical writing and for the construction of the subject’s positionality within it. It argues that the Talmud reveals a defeated national group reforming its community in interaction with—and often in fierce and fearful contention with and gestures of separation from—dominant Greco-Roman culture, and from other Jews, more assimilated to that dominant culture.
This article discusses the social history of the Jews. It determines the extent Jewish communities possessed an inner-Jewish social structure and looks at the social ties that existed between the local communities. Some notable Jewish historians like Martin Goodman and Ed P. Sanders provide some important insights into the social relations of the Jews. The article also looks at the extent Jews were socially integrated into their different environments. The history and geography of the Jews, along with the different social problems that they faced, are discussed.
Jan N. Bremmer
This chapter concentrates on influence from Anatolia, as illustrated by recent discoveries regarding the Luwian, Karian, and Lycian languages. These show the survival of various divinities of the Hittite and Luwian pantheon in Anatolia well into Hellenistic and Roman times. New discoveries have also shed light on the transmission of myths and rituals: the scapegoat ritual was transmitted from the Levant via southern Ionia to Athens and northern Ionia, whereas the myth of Kronos and the Titans reached Greece both via the sea route from the Levant and the land route of Anatolia. Scribes seem to have been the transmitters of mythological material, but travelling seers and ritual specialists the carriers of rituals. In some cases, as the cult of Adonis suggests, an influence via women cannot be excluded either. It ends with a brief study of the transmission of their lore to the Greeks by Persian magoi.
Both in the oikos and in public spaces the Greeks encountered numerous visualizations of the divine. If we look at various representations of Athena in Classical Athens it becomes clear that, even for famous statues, our knowledge of their contexts remains incomplete. Their provenience and visual appearance, as well as their role in ritual, are frequently not fully understood. This also applies to possible differences in their meanings: the widespread assumption of a distinction between cult images and dedications does not match ancient categories. The absence of any normative texts clarifying the relationship of gods to their images is not only due to the paucity of our sources, but also points to different functions the images had in different contexts. There was no ‘creed’, which asked the citizens of a polis to specify if, and in what sense, they regarded divine images as helpful in the creation of divine presence.
This chapter addresses the complex relationship of Augustine of Hippo with the tradition of classical rhetoric in which he had been educated and in which he excelled. It shows that, despite his ostentatious rejection of rhetoric in the Confessions, he never entirely abandoned the rhetorical precepts of Cicero, especially the principle that rhetoric should “teach, delight, and move” its audience. In Augustine’s advice to preachers, however, this Ciceronian triad was subsumed in the urgent need to communicate the word of God: immersion in Holy Scripture and a morally upright life could also be modes of communication. The chapter ends with an analysis of a specific sermon to show Augustine’s characteristic blend of the ideal and pragmatic in his forceful, direct preaching style. Parataxis, biblical quotation, direct address, dialogue with an imagined interlocutor—all are employed to move his congregation to action.
Diverse forms of religious practice coexisted in the Greco-Bactrian and Indo-Greek kingdoms. As well as Greek gods and cults imported by Greek settlers in the aftermath of the campaigns of Alexander the Great, local religious practices persisted. Within individual temples and sanctuaries, we often find multiple cult objects and forms of worship, and it seems likely that Greek and non-Greek gods were syncretized. This chapter uses epigraphic and numismatic evidence to explore the encounter of Greek religious practices with local Bactrian, Zoroastrian, Buddhist, and Hindu cults. It considers the multiplicity of cult practices at religious sites, the various names and meanings which might be attached to the same images and practices by different constituencies, and the political purposes for which religious imagery might be employed.
This chapter discusses the contrast frequently drawn in studies of ancient Greek religion between ritual practice and belief. It looks back, first, at the early history of this contrast, focusing in particular on the work of Robertson Smith (specifically his Lectures on the Religion of the Semites), and locates his evolutionary model of religion, his conception of how primitive religion shook off the ‘husk of material embodiment’, in his particular religious commitment. It then offers an analysis of the common objections to the use of the term ‘belief’ (articulated, in particular, by Rodney Needham and, within Classics, by Simon Price), and critiques recent discussions that have given some place to belief, but see it as penumbral to ritual action. Drawing then on an eclectic range of material (from philosophy as well as cognitive science of religion), the chapter articulates an alternative model of ‘belief’—and of the relationship with ritual practice—applicable to the study of Greek religion.
This chapter investigates how Athenian children were placed under the protection of the gods and what services they performed on the gods’ behalf. The successive rituals that adults conducted on their children’s behalf acknowledged their susceptibility to illness and injury throughout their journey to adulthood. Children’s prominence in state cults was apparently because they were highly valued for their ritual purity. Ritual activity also contributed to the socialization of the rising generation. It remains unclear, however, how many Athenian children underwent what scholars have identified as rites of passage. Nor do we know for certain what percentage of them served as officiates in a subsidiary priestly capacity, though the evidence suggests that this privilege was confined to a handful of the well-born.
This account of Chinese and Greek religion focuses on three topics that are all of significant interest to both subjects, and that lend themselves to comparison. First is cosmogony and cosmology. Chinese thought is characterized by systematic theories of cosmology from very early times, and gives rise to several important concepts. Some stand in strong contrast to early Greek attempts to identify the ultimate constituents of matter. A second comparable is relations and distinctions between humans, animals and gods. For example, several Greek and Chinese philosophical texts formulated 'scales of nature' that placed humans within a spectrum of animate and conscious beings. A third comparison addresses the scope and nature of mantic practices (divination). Several points of methodology are also introduced, including the need to focus on both intellectual and social institutions, the methodology of comparison, and specific reasons for a comparison of topics in Chinese and Greek religion.
Scott Fitzgerald Johnson
This chapter considers the definition, genres, and major themes of early Christian apocrypha within the context of the Second Sophistic. Christian fiction surrounding Jesus and the Apostles was a fertile area for literary experimentation. Recovering the history of this literature is difficult, however, because of multiform texts, anonymous authorship, and the many different languages the texts survive in. Popular genres included Gospels, Apocryphal Acts, Apocalyptic, and epistolography. When read as a whole, the large and diverse corpus of early Christian imaginative literature corresponds well with the proliferation of new genres and texts in the Second Sophistic. It shows how literary trends spread across religious confessions and how discursive tools were shared between writers in secular and sacred spheres. Early Christian storytelling was a principal means of establishing a distinct identity in the Roman world.
Adam H. Becker
This article focuses on the Christian society in the early Roman Empire. It shows how the Christians and Christian community were simultaneously added into and alienated from the broader society of the early Roman Empire. It then looks at Jesus' role in the development of the ecclesia as a social movement and discusses the Pauline House-Church. It studies the different Christian communal practices and offices, the new models for a new Christian community, and the concept of a Christian family. The article briefly discusses the persecution of the Christians and the conversion of Emperor Constantine to Christianity. The self-definition of Christians, the relations between Jews and Christians, and Christian apologetics are also discussed.
A man by the name of Jesus (Yeshu), from the obscure region of the Galilee, clashed with the Jewish establishment in Judaean Jerusalem and was dispatched to his death on the orders of the Roman governor, like thousands of others, by the gruesome method of crucifixion. The Galilean preacher left behind a rich legacy of parables and miracles. His admirers, few but fiery, set out from Judaea to spread his message throughout major urban centres in the eastern provinces. Two even reached the imperial capital of Rome. Imperial decrees notwithstanding, by the third mid-century, Christianity was sufficiently prominent to elicit empire-wide persecution. Aided by Christ, Constantine could contemplate a Christian commonwealth that a Galilean had confidently claimed on the basis of a reformulated Judaism. Ironically, ecclesiastical monotheism and late Roman monarchy emerged as a perfect match. The stories that explained the birth of Christianity revolved around conflicts which assured the community of a recognisable identity: the conflict with Judaism and the conflict with paganism.
Although there is limited evidence for pre-Constantinian Christianity in Roman Britain, it is clear that in the fourth century ad the early church became increasingly widespread, partly owing to the influence of the Roman state. The archaeological evidence for this includes personal items bearing potential Christian imagery, possible liturgical fonts or basins, church structures and putative Christian burial traditions. The wider relationship between Christianity and contemporary pagan religious traditions are explored, and this chapter reviews this surviving material evidence and draws out evidence for regional variation in the adoption of Christianity. More generally, some of the wider practical and methodological issues involved in understanding the archaeology of Roman Christianity in Britain are examined, considering how easy it is to unproblematically identify evidence for Christian practice within late Roman Britain.
This chapter focuses upon the literary representations of the importance of rituals, religious offices, and cult traditions in the time of the Second Sophistic. The “real-life” sophists’ involvement in cult organization, their euergetism in favor of sanctuaries and festivals, and their holding of priesthoods of the imperial cult and of other gods and deities is examined, as well as the imperial measures concerning cult and religion. Both the more “sophistic” matters of the role of cult and religion in the sophists’ texts addressing epiphanies, mystery cults, oracles, and spiritual experiences and the role sophists attribute to themselves in the cultic and religious life of the cities of the eastern provinces are treated.
Giulia Sfameni Gasparro
This chapter explores the nature and development of Greek daimonology, that diverse and structured combination of ideas and beliefs (involving ritual) which applies to a category of superhuman beings known as daimones. The distinctive characteristic of this category is its intermediate and intermediary function between humans and gods. In a cosmological sense daimones are often located in one of the intermediate levels of the cosmic structure. Another meaning is anthropological: a daimon is a human soul, both during life and especially after death. While literary sources illustrate the reflection of authors (e.g. poets, philosophers, historians) that are frequently linked to various philosophical schools (Pythagoreanism, Stoicism, Platonism), it is difficult to investigate popular beliefs and ritual pertaining to daimones. However, examination of the literary and epigraphic evidence allows us to trace the historical development and local differences of the daimonological tradition from the Archaic to the Hellenistic and Roman imperial periods.
The ancient Greeks believed that a life-giving power, which they called psyche (literally ‘breath’; usually translated as ‘soul’), inside the human body left it at the moment of death. The psyche, envisaged as a faint image of the dead person, lived on in the underworld, which it reached by crossing a body of water. Proper burial of the body was a prerequisite for this migration. Those who had not been buried, or had died prematurely or violently, could become avenging spirits or ghosts haunting humans. Mortals favoured by the gods could obtain the gift of a blissful afterlife. The spirits of the dead were, by nature, ambivalent: their influence could be either good or bad. Such spirits could be summoned with special rites and affect mortals through necromancy (oracles of the dead), as ghosts or through their involvement in acts of magic.
This article discusses the physical contexts of Jewish death during the Roman period and tries to determine if people believed in the afterlife. It describes the monumental tombs of the late second temple period. It observes a relevant transition that occurred in Jerusalem and its environs sometime during the late first century
This chapter discusses the ruler cult in the Hellenistic period, as well as earlier instances of deification and heroization, and traces theological views on deification from the Classical to the Hellenistic period. It discusses various agents of deification (Greek cities, royal administration), the forms of the cult, its sanctuaries, priests, and rituals. It argues that the ruler cult served as a medium of communication between the rulers and their subjects and as a way to enforce and legitimize dynastic power. The chapter also provides an overview of the most relevant scholarship. In particular, it traces the transition from a view of the ruler cult as a manifestation of religious decline, to a scholarly position which sees the popularity of the ruler cult in the Hellenistic period as symptomatic of a time when the powers of an individual could be manifested in a way similar to divine intervention.
Radcliffe G. Edmonds III
Hesiod’s Theogony provides one of the most widely authoritative accounts of the origin of the cosmos, but his account has always been challenged by rivals claiming to be older, wiser, and better, and the name of Orpheus has always been privileged in the evidence for ancient rivals to Hesiod. The Orphic accounts play their variations on the Hesiodic themes, riffing in different ways on the idea of the ultimate origin of the cosmos; the processes of reproduction by which subsequent entities were generated; the conflicts between these divinities that created the changes from the original state to the current one; the way in which humans entered the story; and the final resolution of the conflicts and changes that created the current, normal order of Zeus. The shocking innovations they introduce in the images of the theogonic narrative serve to bolster the authority of their often less shockingly innovative cosmological ideas.
As with myth, the ancient Greeks did not have a term equivalent to what we refer to as ritual. On the one hand, the heroic past of Greece was rendered as archaion or palaion, on the other, cultural and religious practices were grasped in terms of agency (drama in particular). Attic tragedy is particularly meaningful in terms of this double foundation, spoken word and (dramatic) action, of what we call Greek religion. Integrated into a mousikos agon, tragedy is itself a ritualized poetic form: it stages an exemplary action taken from the heroic past of the civic community to lead up, at times through the aetiological institution of a cult, to its musical performance as part of ritual honours dedicated to a deity. From this point of view, attention is directed in particular to the choral songs which frame and punctuate, though ritual pragmatics, the dramatization of the tragic action.