Teitler, “The Last Pagan Emperor”

In March, the Oxford University Press released “The Last Pagan Emperor: Julian the Apostate and the War against Christianity,” by H.C. Teitler.  The publisher’s description follows:

Flavius Claudius Julianus was the last pagan to sit on the Roman imperial throne (361-363). Born in Constantinople in 331 or 332, Julian was raised as a Christian, but 9780190626501.jpgapostatized, and during his short reign tried to revive paganism, which, after the conversion to Christianity of his uncle Constantine the Great early in the fourth century, began losing ground at an accelerating pace. Having become an orphan when he was still very young, Julian was taken care of by his cousin Constantius II, one of Constantine’s sons, who permitted him to study rhetoric and philosophy and even made him co-emperor in 355. But the relations between Julian and Constantius were strained from the beginning, and it was only Constantius’ sudden death in 361 which prevented an impending civil war.

As sole emperor, Julian restored the worship of the traditional gods. He opened pagan temples again, reintroduced animal sacrifices, and propagated paganism through both the spoken and the written word. In his treatise Against the Galilaeans he sharply criticised the religion of the followers of Jesus whom he disparagingly called ‘Galilaeans’. He put his words into action, and issued laws which were displeasing to Christians–the most notorious being his School Edict. This provoked the anger of the Christians, who reacted fiercely, and accused Julian of being a persecutor like his predecessors Nero, Decius, and Diocletian. Violent conflicts between pagans and Christians made themselves felt all over the empire. It is disputed whether or not Julian himself was behind such outbursts. Accusations against the Apostate continued to be uttered even after the emperor’s early death. In this book, the feasibility of such charges is examined.

Ramelli, “Social Justice and the Legitimacy of Slavery”

In January, Oxford University Press will release Social Justice and the Legitimacy of Slavery: The Role of Philosophical Asceticism from Ancient Judaism to Late Antiquity by Ilaria L.E. Ramelli (Thomas Aquinas University). The publisher’s description follows:

social-justice-and-the-legitimacy-of-slaveryWere slavery and social injustice leading to dire poverty in antiquity and late antiquity only regarded as normal, “natural” (Aristotle), or at best something morally “indifferent” (the Stoics), or, in the Christian milieu, a sad but inevitable consequence of the Fall, or even an expression of God’s unquestionable will? Social Justice and the Legitimacy of Slavery shows that there were also definitive condemnations of slavery and social injustice as iniquitous and even impious, and that these came especially from ascetics, both in Judaism and in Christianity, and occasionally also in Greco-Roman (“pagan”) philosophy. Ilaria L. E. Ramelli argues that this depends on a link not only between asceticism and renunciation, but also between asceticism and justice, at least in ancient and late antique philosophical asceticism.

Ramelli provides a careful investigation through all of Ancient Philosophy (not only Aristotle and the Stoics, but also the Sophists, Socrates, Plato, the Neoplatonists, and much more), Ancient to Rabbinic Judaism, Hellenistic Jewish ascetic groups such as the Essenes and the Therapeutae, all of the New Testament, with special focus on Paul and Jesus, and Greek, Latin, and Syriac Patristic, from Clement and Origen to the Cappadocians, from John Chrysostom to Theodoret to Byzantine monastics, from Ambrose to Augustine, from Bardaisan to Aphrahat, without neglecting the Christianized Sentences of Sextus. In particular, Ramelli considers Gregory of Nyssa and the interrelation between theory and practice in all of these ancient and patristic philosophers, as well as to the parallels that emerge in their arguments against slavery and against social injustice.

Hurtado, “Destroyer of the Gods”

In September, Baylor University Press will release “Destroyer of the Gods: Early Christian Distinctiveness in the Roman World,” by Larry W. Hurtado (University of Edinburgh). The publisher’s description follows:

Destroyer of the Gods“Silly,” “stupid,” “irrational,” “simple.” “Wicked,” “hateful,” “obstinate,” “anti-social.” “Extravagant,” “perverse.” The Roman world rendered harsh judgments upon early Christianity—including branding Christianity “new.” Novelty was no Roman religious virtue.

Nevertheless, as Larry W. Hurtado shows in Destroyer of the gods, Christianity thrived despite its new and distinctive features and opposition to them. Unlike nearly all other religious groups, Christianity utterly rejected the traditional gods of the Roman world. Christianity also offered a new and different kind of religious identity, one not based on ethnicity. Christianity was distinctively a “bookish” religion, with the production, copying, distribution, and reading of texts as central to its faith, even preferring a distinctive book-form, the codex. Christianity insisted that its adherents behave differently: unlike the simple ritual observances characteristic of the pagan religious environment, embracing Christian faith meant a behavioral transformation, with particular and novel ethical demands for men. Unquestionably, to the Roman world, Christianity was both new and different, and, to a good many, it threatened social and religious conventions of the day.

In the rejection of the gods and in the centrality of texts, early Christianity obviously reflected commitments inherited from its Jewish origins. But these particular features were no longer identified with Jewish ethnicity and early Christianity quickly became aggressively trans-ethnic—a novel kind of religious movement. Its ethical teaching, too, bore some resemblance to the philosophers of the day, yet in contrast with these great teachers and their small circles of dedicated students, early Christianity laid its hard demands upon all adherents from the moment of conversion, producing a novel social project.

Christianity’s novelty was no badge of honor. Called atheists and suspected of political subversion, Christians earned Roman disdain and suspicion in equal amounts. Yet, as Destroyer of the gods demonstrates, in an irony of history the very features of early Christianity that rendered it distinctive and objectionable in Roman eyes have now become so commonplace in Western culture as to go unnoticed. Christianity helped destroy one world and create another.

Ulanowski, “The Religious Aspects of War in the Ancient Near East, Greece, and Rome”

In July, Brill Publishers released “The Religious Aspects of War in the Ancient Near East, Greece, and Rome,” by Krzysztof Ulanowski (Gdańsk University). The publisher’s description follows:

“Hellenistic Sanctuaries” (Melfi & Bobou, eds.)

In April, Oxford University Press will release “Hellenistic Sanctuaries: Between Greece and Rome,” edited by Milena Melfi (Oxford University) and Olympia Bobou (Ashmolean Museum).  The publisher’s description follows:

Sanctuaries were at the heart of Greek religious, social, political, and cultural life; however, we have a limited understanding of how sanctuary spaces, politics, and 9780199654130rituals intersected in the Greek cities of the Hellenistic and Republican periods. This edited collection focuses on the archaeological material of this era and how it can elucidate the complex relationship between the various forces operating on, and changing the physical space of, sanctuaries. Material such as archaeological remains, sculptures, and inscriptions provides us with concrete evidence of how sanctuaries functioned as locations of memory in a social environment dominated by the written word, and gives us insight into political choices and decisions. It also reveals changes unrecorded in surviving local or political histories. Each case study explored by this volume’s contributors employs archaeology as the primary means of investigation: from art-historical approaches, to surveys and fieldwork, to re-evaluation of archival material. Hellenistic Sanctuaries represents a significant contribution to the existing bibliography on ancient Greek religion, history, and archaeology, and provides new ways of thinking about politics, rituals, and sanctuary spaces in Greece.

“Pagans and Christians in Late Antique Rome” (eds. Salzman et al)

In November, the Cambridge University Press released “Pagans and Christians in Late Antique Rome: Conflict, Competition, and Coexistence in the Fourth Century,” edited by Michele Renee Salzman (University of California, Riverside), Marianne Sághy (Central European University), and Rita Lizzi Testa (Università degli Studi di Perugia). The publisher’s description follows: 

This book sheds new light on the religious and consequently social changes taking place in late antique Rome. The essays in this volume argue that the once-51gcE0J9FuL._SX327_BO1,204,203,200_dominant notion of pagan-Christian religious conflict cannot fully explain the texts and artifacts, as well as the social, religious, and political realities of late antique Rome. Together, the essays demonstrate that the fourth-century city was a more fluid, vibrant, and complex place than was previously thought. Competition between diverse groups in Roman society – be it pagans with Christians, Christians with Christians, or pagans with pagans – did create tensions and hostility, but it also allowed for coexistence and reduced the likelihood of overt violent, physical conflict. Competition and coexistence, along with conflict, emerge as still central paradigms for those who seek to understand the transformations of Rome from the age of Constantine through the early fifth century.

  • The most up-to-date analysis of the texts and archaeological evidence from late antique Rome
  • Written by an international team of scholars with diverse backgrounds and approaches
  • Illuminates new approaches to ancient history by addressing the nature of religious change in the largest city in the Mediterranean world – Rome

Winter, “Divine Honours for the Caesars”

In October, Eerdmans released Divine Honours for the Caesars: The First Winter_Divine Honors for the Caesars_wrk03.inddChristians’ Response, by historian Bruce Winter. The publisher’s description follows:

Though the first century A.D. saw the striking rise and expansion of Christianity throughout the vast Roman Empire, ancient historians have shown that an even stronger imperial cult spread far more rapidly at the same time. How did the early Jesus-followers cope with the all-pervasive culture of emperor worship?

This authoritative study by Bruce Winter explores the varied responses of first-century Christians to imperial requirements to render divine honours to the Caesars. Winter first examines the significant primary evidence of emperor worship, particularly analysing numerous inscriptions in public places and temples that attributed divine titles to the emperors, and he then looks at specific New Testament evidence in light of his findings.

Bardill, “Constantine, Divine Emperor of the Christian Golden Age”

Next month, Cambridge releases Constantine, Divine Emperor of the Christianconst Golden Age, by Jonathan Bardill (Oxford). The publisher’s description follows:

Constantine, Divine Emperor of the Christian Golden Age offers a radical reassessment of Constantine as an emperor, a pagan, and a Christian. The book examines in detail a wide variety of evidence, including literature, secular and religious architectural monuments, coins, sculpture, and other works of art. Setting the emperor in the context of the kings and emperors who preceded him, Jonathan Bardill shows how Constantine’s propagandists exploited the traditional themes and imagery of rulership to portray him as having been elected by the supreme solar God to save his people and inaugurate a brilliant golden age. The author argues that the cultivation of this image made it possible for Constantine to reconcile the long-standing tradition of imperial divinity with his monotheistic faith by assimilating himself to Christ.

The Death of the Divine Augustus

The Death of the Divine Augustus

blessedToday is the 2000th anniversary of the death of Caesar Augustus. For anyone who has ever seen it, the Divine Augustus will always be associated with Brian Blessed’s portrayal of him (left) in the BBC adaptation of the wonderful Robert Graves novels, I, Claudius and Claudius the God. And so, to commemorate the day, here’s a snippet of dialogue, on a law and religion theme, which captures the charming, cynical urbanity of the series. For those of us nerds of a certain sort, it’s a real guilty pleasure. I’m sure the whole thing is available on Netflix. Watch it — or, better yet, read the books!

[Herod and Augustus are watching a gladiatorial contest.]
Augustus: Herod, what about a little bet? I’ll take the fat one for twenty gold pieces.
Herod: Caesar, it would be against my religion to bet on the life of a man.
Augustus: Oh, really? I would have thought it against your religion to bet on anything.
Herod: Caesar, it’s true: Jews love gambling. But we fear our god more.
Augustus: Which one?
Herod: We have only one, Caesar.
Augustus: I’ve never understood that, it’s quite insufficient. Why don’t you take some of our gods? You know, plenty of people do.
Herod: Believe me, Caesar, the one we have is hard enough to live with.

 

 

On Loving the City

Marc’s post yesterday about Augustine’s two cities–the earthly and heavenly–reminded me of something I read in Peter Brown’s recent book on wealth in ancient Rome. Brown argues that a decisive shift in the conception of generosity accompanied the transition from pagan to Christian society. Both pagans and Christians could be generous. But the objects of their generosity differed.

In pagan Rome, generosity meant adorning one’s city–nowadays, we would say, “country”–contributing to its stature, power, and beauty. Benefactors gave money for magnificent buildings, games, and banquets. Such generosity was understood as a form of love, the “amor civicus,” or “love for the city and its citizens.” A rich person who gave money to glorify his city, Brown writes, “was acclaimed as an amator patriae–a lover of his or her hometown. It was the most honorable love that a wealthy person could show.” A pagan benefactor would not think of looking beyond his city when making a gift. That would have been a snub to his hometown and fellow citizens. 

Christian giving was a different thing. The ideal recipients of Christian generosity were not one’s fellow citizens, who might be quite well-off, but the poor and marginalized, whether they were citizens of one’s patria or not. The point was still to give money in a way that would glorify the city. But the heavenly city, not the earthly city, was the proper object of glorification. Christian charity, Brown writes, was “a transfer of wealth from this world to the next, summed up in the notion of placing treasure in heaven.”

Obviously these are generalities; there were pagans who gave to the poor and Christians who tried to beautify Rome. But the change in focus was essential, and dramatic. From a Christian perspective, the things of this world, although important and necessary, can never be the main concern. Friends, family, home, country–of course one loves these things. Only a monster would not. But it is foolish to glorify or invest too much in them, particularly country. “For here we have no lasting city,” the author of Hebrews says, “but we are looking for the city that is to come.”

Marc began his post with a poem, so I will end with one. In Browning’s “Love Among the Ruins,” a shepherd muses over the ruins of an ancient capital, now a pasture. I’ve always imagined that Browning was talking about the ruins of the Roman Forum, which for centuries, before the archaeologists started to dig, were known as the Campo Vaccino, or cow pasture. The love that Browning describes isn’t Christian love, exactly, but it strikes me as a lot closer to that ideal than the amor civicus:

In one year they sent a million fighters forth
South and North,
And they built their gods a brazen pillar high
As the sky
Yet reserved a thousand chariots in full force—
Gold, of course.
O heart! oh blood that freezes, blood that burns!
Earth’s returns
For whole centuries of folly, noise and sin!
Shut them in,
With their triumphs and their glories and the rest!
Love is best. 
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