The Oxford Handbook of Early Christian Studies by
Susan Ashbrook Harvey and David G. Hunter (Oxford
Handbooks in Religion and Theology: Oxford University
Press) responds to and celebrates the explosion of
research in this inter-disciplinary field over recent
decades. As a one-volume reference work, it provides an
introduction to the academic study of early Christianity
(c. 100-600 AD) and examines the vast geographical area
impacted by the early church, in Western and Eastern
late antiquity. It is thematically arranged to encompass
history, literature, thought, practices, and material
culture. It contains authoritative and up-to-date
surveys of current thinking and research in the various
sub-specialties of early Christian studies, written by
leading figures in the discipline. The essays orientate
readers to a given topic, as well as to the trajectory
of research developments over the past 30-50 years
within the scholarship itself. Guidance for future
research is also given. Each essay points the reader
towards relevant forms of extant evidence (texts,
documents, or examples of material culture), as well as
to the appropriate research tools available for the
This volume will be useful to advanced undergraduate and post-graduate students, as well as to specialists in any area who wish to consult a brief review of the 'state of the question' in a particular area or sub-specialty of early Christian studies, especially one different from their own. More
Roman Attitudes Toward the Christians: From Claudius to Hadrian by John Granger Cook (Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen Zum Neuen Testament: Mohr Siebeck) John Granger Cook investigates the earliest interactions between Roman authorities and Christians. The events in Claudius' time surrounding "Chrestos" and possible Jewish Christians are fascinating but obscure. The persecutions of Nero and Trajan may be crucial for interpreting certain texts of the New Testament, including the Gospel of Mark, 1 Peter, and the Apocalypse. Scholars have become increasingly skeptical of a persecution of the Christians during Domitian's rule, and the evidence is not strong. The rescript of Hadrian did little to change Trajan's policy with regard to the Christians. Although the texts provide no evidence for a general law against the Christians (probably no such law existed until the time of Decius), they do give some indication of the way magistrates characterized ("constructed") constructed") Christians: to Nero and his prefects the Christians were arsonists and harbored intense hatred of the human race; to Pliny and Trajan they were people who did not "supplicate our gods."
Only a handful of Roman authors have left evidence for Roman attitudes toward the Christians from the principate of Claudius to that of Hadrian. To my knowledge none of them ever got their hands on a Septuagint, much less a New Testament document. Nonetheless their approach to Christianity help set the course for the occasional conflict between the new faith and Greco-Roman culture. There is an old tradition of theologians venturing into the field of classical history when it has been particularly important for the understanding of early Christianity. The risk is substantial, but the potential rewards are greater because one cannot understand the context of many of the texts in the New Testament without doing it. To that end I have included several sections in the chapters that indicate some of the possible trajectories between the attitudes (and actions) of the Romans toward the Christians and the New Testament itself.
The fundamental objection to monographs on this subject is a comment by T. D. Barnes in his two reviews of Rudolf Freudenberger's "sober" monograph on Pliny. Barnes' main criticism is that there is nothing new in Freudenberger's work. While many theologians continue (as they should) to make use of Freudenberger's inquiry, few are aware that it received almost uniformly negative reviews in the classical and patristic journals.5 Scholars of NT and early Christianity should tread in the fields of Roman literature, history, law, archaeology, and inscriptions with caution. But it has been done many times before and needs to be done anew in each generation. For those interested in the NT and ancient Christianity a fresh reading of some well known Roman sources offers insights into the conflict that sometimes developed between Roman magistrates and the Christian faithful. Theologians sometimes read the material too quickly. The payoff for the field of NT can be immense for the "slow reader."
When considering methodology, the decision I reached was that traditional historical approaches were well suited to my purposes of investigating Roman perspectives on the Christians. One concept from post-modernist and post-colonialist methodologies I found useful for understanding the relationship between the Romans and the Christians is that of "othering." There were some Roman intellectuals and officials who viewed ("constructed") the Christians as "the other" — a novum that they comprehended with difficulty. Troels Enberg Pedersen, with regard to the Platonist philosophers who rather superficially read the New Testament, has made the point to me that they could have done much better had they been inclined to do so. Probably the Roman intellectuals and governors like Tacitus and Pliny were so disgusted at the phenomenon of Christianity that they lacked the inclination to make any profound explorations into the nature of early Christian faith, morality, and ritual practice. What I have sought to do during this project is develop a sympathy for the Romans' shock when they had to deal with this "other" — these Christians who were so difficult to conceive using the categories they were familiar with.
Fruitful investigations have looked into the Christians' understanding of the pagans, and in a sense they are the obverse of this book. Jennifer Wright Knust's examination of the Christian construction of pagan sexuality is an intriguing case in point. She concentrates on the vituperative rhetoric of authors like Paul and Justin Martyr, often used to set Christianity off against its pagan context.? The "real facts" behind the rhetoric are probably unknowable, although collections of erotic art and the graffiti in brothels tell us something. But relying on such sources for the "facts" may be like relying on the depressing sights of Bourbon Street in New Orleans to construct sexuality in Louisiana. We are left, in the case of Roman constructions of Christianity, with a frustratingly small number of sources until the time of Celsus, apparently one of the first Greco-Roman authors to take a real interest in early Christianity. How representative are they of reality?
The problem of fact and fiction is unavoidable. The late professor Hengel used to insist that history (i.e., our sources) is a combination of both and that the task of the historian is to do one's best to distinguish between the two.9 In this regard professor Dieter Timpe's reflections on historical methodology in both classical and early Christian studies are unique and sorely needed. Few others have attained the qualifications to do both. My task is somewhat eased because I want to investigate Roman attitudes primarily. Consequently, although I do not avoid historical questions when I must face them, my purpose is to consider Roman thought with regard to the Christians — particularly the thought of Roman officials.
I have become increasingly convinced that once Christianity, in the eyes of the Romans, separated from Judaism and began converting pagans that some Romans quickly began to suspect that Christianity had the potential of tearing the fabric of Roman society apart. "Atheism" and "atheists" are an important part of the Roman "construct" of Christianity)' This attitude against questioning the cultural consensus about Greco-Roman religion appears in a rather fascinating text of Plutarch. In a peaceful discussion in his Amatorius concerning whether Eros is a god, Plutarch affirms:
Pemptides, you are touching, he said, a great and perilous matter [i.e., questioning the divinity of Eros]; or rather shaking up what should not be shaken of our beliefs about the gods, by demanding proof for each god. The ancestral and ancient faith is sufficient — it is not possible to assert or find demonstrative proof clearer than faith — "No, though of highest intellect wisdom spring" — faith is a kind of seat and common basis for piety, and if one matter that is certain and customary in faith is disturbed or shaken, it becomes precarious and suspect in every respect. You surely heard what a disturbance arose concerning Euripides when he began his Melanippê with this: "Zeus, whoever Zeus is, for I do not know except by tradition." And he took up another chorus (for it appears he had confidence in the drama, having written showily and excessively), changed the verse into what is now written, "Zeus, as it is now asserted by the truth." What is the advantage of making the belief about Zeus or Athena or Eros doubtful or uncertain by argumentation? Eros is not now demanding a first altar or sacrifice nor is he a stranger from some foreign superstition,14 like certain Attises and Adonises as they are named, secretly creeping in through the agency of emasculated men15 and women, enjoying honors that he does not deserve — with the result that he would be prosecuted for illegal registration as a god and bastardy among the gods.
This discussion of the dangers of questioning Greek religion is closely related to Maecenas' speech to Augustus in which he warns the imperator of the dangers of atheism and which may itself be a thinly veiled warning against Christianity.'' To further illustrate the "danger" Christianity posed in the eyes of some Romans, I will appeal to two figures from the Antonine era: the satirist Lucian and the Roman social conservative, Celsus, the middle Platonist.
Lucian describes Peregrinus' study of Christian "wisdom" and books at the hands of their priests and scribes in Palestine after strangling his father in Armenia. An unnamed orator (surely Lucian) has little use for the Cynic, soon to immolate himself at the Olympic festival near Elis.
Then he learned the amazing wisdom of the Christians, associating in Palestine with their priests and scribes. And for what? He quickly made them appear to be children — being their prophet and leader of their religious guild and the leader of the synagogue and everything, himself alone; and he explained their books and interpreted them, and even wrote many himself. And they stood in awe of him as of a god and used him as their lawgiver and endorsed him as their protector, at least after that individual whom they worship, the person in Palestine that was crucified, because he introduced a new rite into the world).
Celsus responded to Christianity, apparently toward the end of his treatise with the outlines of an imperial theology, and he encourages adherence to the imperial cult.
If matters are so, what is so terrible about propitiating those who rule here, both the others [i.e., the demons] and those who are rulers and kings among people, for it is not without demonic power that they have been deemed worthy to exist here?
It may be quite important that Lucian conceived of a "religious crime" — the crime of introducing a new religious cult.
After being imprisoned in Syria for his new found faith, and being visited in prison by Christian leaders, Peregrinus was read to from the "sacred books". The Christians called him their "new Socrates." The narrator describes the people from Asia who brought money to their hero and summarizes the Christian faith and its consequences for Greco-Roman religious tradition:
The poor devils have entirely persuaded themselves that they are immortal and will live forever, and consequently they despise death and many have willingly given themselves up. And then their first lawmaker has persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another, whenever — offending once for all — they deny the Hellenic gods and worship that crucified sophist and live according to his laws. Therefore they hold all things equally in contempt and regard them as common property, accepting such beliefs without any exact proof. If accordingly any cheat or trickster arrives who is able to use opportunities, he immediately becomes very rich, scoffing at ignorant individuals.
Lucian's narrator emphasizes the Christians' denial of the Greek gods — presumably the defining characteristic of Christianity in his eyes.
Celsus draws an important correlation between faith in Zeus and the security and stability of the emperor [I put Origen's words in brackets]:
[Then Celsus next says that] we ought not to disbelieve the ancient man who long ago declared, "Let there be one king, him to whom the son of crafty Kronos gave the power." [And he continues]: For, if you overthrow this doctrine, it is probable that the emperor will punish you. If everyone were to do the same as you, there would be nothing to prevent him from being abandoned, alone and deserted, while earthly things would come into the power of the most lawless and savage barbarians, and nothing more would be heard among people either of your worship or of the true wisdom.
With regard to Christian missionaries' attempts to evangelize the Romans, Celsus has this to say:
You will certainly not say that if the Romans were persuaded by you, were to neglect the custom of their earlier practices towards gods and people, and should call on your Highest or whomever you wish, he would descend and fight for them, and there would be no necessity for any other force. For the same God earlier made these promises and some much greater than these to those who are devoted to him, as you yourselves say and you see how much he helped both those and you. Instead of being despots over the whole earth, not as much as one clod of earth or hearth is left to them. And as for you, if one should be found still wandering about in secret, he/she is searched out in order to be condemned to die.
Celsus apparently thinks the goal of Christian evangelism is socio-political and completely absurd:
If only it were possible for the inhabitants of Asia, Europe, Libya, both Greeks and barbarians all the way to the ends of the earth, to agree on one law [thinking this to be impossible he adds] the one who thinks this knows nothing.
Although Elysée Pélagaud ends his trenchant analysis of Celsus with a paean to his humanity, this comment indicates Celsus was rather enthusiastic about persecution (and the imperium). Celsus may anticipate some of the thinking of officials that were active in the "great persecution" (and perhaps the deliberations of Decius if we knew them), although he expresses himself in terms of conversion of the imperators themselves and the possible devastation of the empire that would result. If he had lived a century later, Celsus could not have blamed Valerian's capture in 259 by the Persians on the Christians, but undoubtedly he would have blamed the fall of Rome in 410 on the Christians — had he been alive to experience it.
It would also not be acceptable for you to say that if those who now rule over us were persuaded by you and captured, that you would persuade those who rule next, then others, and if those should be taken, then others after others, until when all those persuaded by you are taken [by the enemy], one in authority will come to his senses and know beforehand what is happening and before he is destroyed first, will utterly destroy all of you with your whole race.
It is not my intention to go deeply into Celsus' theological and political philosophy here. The words speak for themselves. Celsus viewed Christianity as a great danger to the Roman social order. One has only to look closely at a text like the Calendar of Filocalus (in a volume from 354) with all its gladiatorial combats, spectacles dedicated to the gods, and circus games dedicated to emperors and gods to see the transformation that Christianity would bring. Tertullian's rather vicious On Spectacles foresaw the end of a good deal that held the social fabric together too. The importance of the Roman liturgical calendar for Romans was surely equivalent to the importance of the Christian liturgical calendar for Christians.
One can overemphasize reactions like that of Celsus. The persecutions were, after all, only sporadic. The relations between Christians and Romans (i.e., pagans) during the era between Claudius to Hadrian were undoubtedly complex. Much of the time the imperial officials probably tolerated the Christians, unless they were accused by enemies. The sum total of Christians who died as a result of the Roman persecutions in the era before Constantine was less than the number of Protestants who died at the hands of Charles V in the Netherlands, according to Edward Gibbon. It is difficult to assess such statistics, given the absence of a Prosopographia damnatorum imperii Romani (Prosopography of the condemned of the Roman empire). Those condemned to die usually left no surviving name in what little genuine historical evidence remains. In the analyses of the various Roman texts describing the authorities' treatments of the Christians from the time of Claudius to that of Hadrian, I have attempted to place the authors' perspectives on the Christians in as much cultural context as I could to help illuminate the occasional intolerance Christians experienced under the imperium.
It is only an analogy, but in a sense the subject matter in the pages that follow is as important to New Testament studies as axioms are to the geometer. One example will suffice. It is unnecessary to list the New Testament scholars who have axiomatically assumed the existence of a Domitianic persecution of the Christian church. One could compare that assumption, itself based on very thin historical data, to Euclid's faith in his parallel postulate. That postulate serves every high school geometer well, but has been dispensed with by several famous geometers, with important implications for many fields of study including philosophy, physics, and mathematics. The Neronian and Trajanic persecutions, likewise, are "axioms" in the field of New Testament research. We can dispense with Domitian's persecution, but the other two are of central importance for understanding early Christianity.
Orphism and Christianity in Late Antiquity by Miguel Herrero de Jáuregui (Studies in the Recovery of Ancient Texts: DeGruyter) Many recent discoveries have confirmed the importance of Orphism for ancient Greek religion, philosophy and literature. Its nature and role are still, however, among the most debated problems of Classical scholarship. A cornerstone of the question is its relationship to Christianity, which modern authors have too often discussed from apologetic perspectives or projections of the Christian model into its supposed precedent. Besides, modern approaches are strongly based on ancient ones, since Orpheus and the poems and mysteries attributed to him were fundamental in the religious controversies of Late Antiquity. Both Pagan and Christian authors often present Orphism as a precedent, alternative or imitation of Chistianity.This free and thorough study of the ancient sources sheds light on these controversial questions. The presence of the Orphic tradition in Imperial Age, documented by literary and epigraphical evidence, is confronted with the informations transmitted by Christian apologists on Orphic poems and cults. The manifold Christian treatments of Pagan sources, and their particular value to understand Greek religion, are illuminated by this specific case, which exemplifies the complex encounter between Classical culture and Jewish-Christian tradition.
Greece and Rome matter because they are related to us. Classics should not be a self-contained realm for the enjoyment of a few, but a source of intellectual, moral and aesthetic inspiration for our own times. And research should not only pursue old questions and open new ones for fellow experts, but should also be able to transmit a deeper and more subtle — even enthusiastic — knowledge of Antiquity, to those approaching classical studies from other disciplines or out of general interest. Thus, this book, stemming from a PhD dissertation, is intended to be accessible not only to classicists and specialists in other areas, but to anyone interested in ancient religion. In order to make it so, I have restricted the use of Greek to a necessary minimum and I have tried to avoid excessive quotation, instead providing the most relevant texts in the Appendices. The introductory chapter seeks to embark upon this sailing ship of Orphism and its related controversies all who have no fear of the voyage. The five chapters that follow are intended to maintain the balance necessary to prevent anyone — either the expert or the general reader — from being tempted to jump ship.
This book deals with issues that have received increasing attention in recent scholarship. General interest in the first centuries of Christianity has spread beyond the confines of academia for a number of reasons — and this has been accompanied by a concomitant curiosity regarding the religions of Antiquity, especially those considered similar to the incipient Christian cult. Ever since its initial scholarly reconstructions in the nineteenth century, Orphism has been prominent among them. Several spectacular finds in the last decades have furthermore brought Orphism to the forefront of studies of ancient religion of the Classical, Hellenistic and Imperial periods.
The present study returns, from a new perspective, to the old question of the relationship between Orphism and Christianity, starting with a study of its form and spheres of influence in Imperial times (Chapters II and III). For the first time, the potential and implications of using the works of the Christian apologists as our primary source for ancient Orphism are fully explored, and the contents (Chapter IV), strategies (V) and perspectives (VI) of their Orphic references assessed. The two main fields of study, always murky, upon which the present work is intended to cast light, are the nature of Orphism within the Greek religious, literary and philosophic context and the relationship between second- to fifth-century Christian literature and Greek culture and religion. My interest here is focused upon an already-developing Christianity, as it attempts to deepen its interaction with the Greek world that surrounds it without compromising its Jewish roots. This Hellenization of Christianity is not only a crucial development for much of Western history, but also one whose exploration has the potential to cast a certain amount of light backwards and to explain some aspects of the Classical world.
The research methodology is purely philological, inasmuch as it stems from the examination of written evidence. Its results do not depend upon any prior theoretical orientation. The fact that linguistic, sociological or anthropological theoretical models are used at times to clarify various aspects of the study does not mean that the research as a whole is structured by these approaches. This is also the case concerning comparisons with other historical eras, including modern ones: their function — to help with the explication of the texts — is simply instrumental to particular points, and is not aimed at developing some general theory.
The same desire for investigative independence applies also to the analysis of theology and religious experience, both Greek and Christian. Any attempt at absolute objectivity is vain in approaching religion, even more so given the fact that Christianity is a living religion which continues to pervade our culture. Doubtless, my attempts to liberate the analysis of Orphism from the Christian categories through which it has often been approached, careful though they may be, will betray the influence of my own culturally determined schemas. At the very least, however, I have tried to avoid an apologetic approach, which has been and still is the main reason for arbitrary and ungrounded extrapolations with regard to one side or the other. Christianity's similarity to or difference from the other religions of its milieu is not a proof of its truth or falsehood. The days when the study of Christian texts was the exclusive province of those seeking to demonstrate Christianity's truth or the contrary seem, fortunately, to have been left behind. Returning to them, in a more or less concealed way, only implies burdening our research with ideological prejudices. Religious experience and the theological constructs it has generated within both the Greek and Christian contexts — as well as in others — are a psychological and historical reality that, as such, deserves scholarly study. Deciding whether this experience corresponds to an objective reality or not is a question that does not depend on empirical research, but on personal choice.
Neither general nor specific conclusions are intended to be absolutely definitive or beyond doubt. In a murky area such as this, subject to the changes introduced every few years by new discoveries and approaches, research must aspire to offer a tool well adapted to the scientific community's pursuit of an always-partial truth. This study explores areas in which passionate debates have arisen in the last two centuries. My approach to previous works stems from an indisputable axiom that should be welcomed, in principle, by those who dedicate themselves to classics: fools do not abound in our scholarly field. Some results of the present work confirm and develop earlier theories; some explore new perspectives; others refute ideas still widely held. However, as wrong as any hypothesis might seem, we will have to investigate the motivations for mistakes made by researchers whose competence is generally beyond doubt, in order to extract from such hypotheses the truth that mistaken overarching visions might contain. The distortions introduced by modern authors, just like those of ancient ones, also contribute to an understanding of the reality which they are distorting. I hope that possible mistakes in my own work will receive an equally benevolent explanation from future critics.
This book is a revised translation of the original Spanish version, finished in 2006. I have introduced some minor changes in addition to those required by the appearance of new studies in the last three years. I am grateful to the readers and reviewers of the Spanish version, specially Olegario Gonzalez de Cardedal, Alan Farahani and Thomas Figueira, who pointed out some elements that needed revision and / or updating, and also to the translators for their patient and efficacious work.
Modern interest in the Orphic tradition arose from the perception of its similarities with Christianity, and this is still one of the main reasons for the curiosity that Orphism arouses among scholars of ancient religion. Both are deeply asymmetrical entities that, however, share some apparently common elements, particularly appealing for the contrast these offer with the conventional image of Greek religion. The survival of the soul after death and its reward or punishment in the next world; the devaluation of this lacrimarum vallis, as opposed to a transcendent Afterlife; an original state of moral impurity from which only believers are purified; an individual and intimate relation with divinity; the possibility of passing beyond the border between the human and the divine: these notions and others associated with them seem completely inconsistent with the image of the Olympian religion transmitted in the Iliad, in Pindar's odes or in Aeschylus' tragedies. There death is an insurmountable boundary, which marks an insuperable distance from the gods. Mortals communicate with the Olympian immortals by means of a public cult, with the declared aim of securing their favour for a life characterised entirely by social and secular aspirations. Two Orphic tablets found in a tomb (OF 485-486) say to the deceased, "Now you have died, and now you have been born, thrice blessed one, on this very day." On the other hand, Pindar makes his choir sing in honor of a victor in the Olympic Games, "since death is unavoidable, why spend in vain an anonymous old age sitting in the shade, alien to any kind of glory? No, victory has to be mine!" (01. 1.82-84). Death is always central in the Greek Weltanschauung, always the moment that defines and sets its seal upon the life it terminates. In Orphism, however, death is the beginning of life, and not its end.
The poetic image of Greece, celebrated from Homer to Winkelmann and Nietzsche, is one deeply emblazoned in Western consciousness. In reality, however, this heroic — not to say idealized and biased — image of Greek religion has been constructed partly by a more-or-less conscious opposition to Christianity. Thus the shadow of Orphism, which does not readily conform to the marmoreal patterns of Olympian religion, has inevitably been traced on this template as a kind of Christianity avant la lettre, which introduced for the first time in Greece the dualistic and eschatological notions that were to be developed further in the Hellenistic age, and came finally to dominate the Late Antique religious landscape. This apparent similarity may prompt a heavily distorted view of Orphism, onto which the scholarly tradition has attempted, and sometimes still attempts, to project an under-nuanced interpretation of Christian theology, or, even more dangerously, of Christianity's social structure. In turn, it is just this similarity itself that has often motivated the interest or the scorn of modern scholars — themselves seldom free of prejudice. Some saw in Orphism a process whereby the Greek spirit was being prepared for the reception of the greater Christian truth to come. Alternatively, others saw it as the seed of a Hellenistic spiritual decadence, which would lead eventually to the final disappearance of the Classical spirit. Yet others envisioned it as a kind of Protestant reform of traditional Dionysiac worship. All of these interpretations are informed by the underlying idea that Orphism is a forerunner of Christianity in the Greek world — an idea that, as we shall see, had already been formulated by some ancient writers, and that took root again strongly when nineteenth-century philology focused on Orphism as a subject of study.
It is only a small step, and one very easy to take, from postulating spiritual precedence to supposing historical dependence. Here the study of Orphism is framed within a broader intellectual fashion, the comparison of Christianity with ancient mystery cults. The overwhelming presence of Greek philosophy in the formation of Christian dogma made it appear logical to posit similar processes with regard to ritual and religious experience. The Religionswissenschaft of the nineteenth century explored the roots of Christianity with great enthusiasm, and many scholars found them in the mystery religions. But many others contested any direct dependence of the dogmas and central rites of Christianity upon the Greek or Eastern mysteries. Of course ideological parti pris on the "uniqueness" of Christianity was more or less explicitly present in these quarrels. The debate was long, complex and brilliant, and outstanding figures like the German scholars Albrecht Dieterich (1913), Richard Reitzenstein (19273), Wilhelm Bousset (1913), the British anthropologist Sir James Frazer (1913), or the Belgian Franz Cumont (1929), on the first side, and Carl Clemen (1915) or Arthur Darby Nock (1928), on the other, left many contributions which retain a great significance today. While the comparatists showed the manifold coincidences between Christian texts, rites and ideas and those of the mystery cults, the other side developed various methodological lines which sought to underline the differences. Comparativism discovered many analogies and often deduced a more or less direct genealogy: baptism, for instance, would come from initiation rituals, salvation from mystic soteriology, etc. The compara tivists' critics, on the other hand, refuted such genetic dependence, arguing from the differences of language and meaning that underlay the superficial resemblances. For example, Clemen established a rigid threefold filter to establish the dependence of a Christian narrative or ritual element upon a pagan one: 1) The Christian element should be inexplicable as an inheritance from Judaism or from Christian practice prior to its appearance. 2) Its similarity with the pagan element from which it is allegedly derived should not be merely superficial, but also concern its import and meaning. 3) The pagan element should exist before Christianity and in geographical proximity to it) Along similar lines but from a refined linguistic approach, Nock denied that the mysteries played any significant role in the New Testament, since the common vocabulary (myein, kyrios) had a very different meaning in the Pauline Epistles than in pagan Greek sources.' However, even more than the weight of these arguments, it was the discredit of comparativism after its boldest exaggerations had been refuted that caused its exhaustion until its revindication in our own day along renewed lines'.
The question of "Christianity and mysteries" gradually disappeared from the forefront of scholarship in the second half of the century. The American historian of religions Jonathan Z. Smith published in 1991 a most influential book, Drudgery Divine: On the Comparison of Early Christianities and the Religions of Late Antiquity, which showed with great precision what had long constituted a general impression'. The old debates on Greek or Eastern influence on Christianity were largely a more or less conscious reflection of traditional Protestant vs. Catholic polemics over whether primitive Christianity had or had not been corrupted by Hellenism. Apologetic concerns about an unscholarly category like "uniqueness" distorted reality in their zeal to show that the influence was either overwhelming or insignificant, and as a result both Christianity and the mysteries were falsified in falsely symmetrical constructions. Their internal complexity and evolution were ignored, and later elements were projected into earlier times, since all that mattered was the (in) adequacy of the mysteries (taken as a single entity) and the diverse Christianities (also taken as a whole) when measured against the same template.
Fortunately, for some decades the study of the ancient mysteries, though still heavily burdened by concepts inherited from these old religious debates, has been in general free of apologetic concerns.' Obviously Christianizing prisms and arbitrary genealogies are avoided, as also is the case with ideological presumptions. Current scholarship generally attributes the majority of the observed parallelisms between the mysteries and Christian practice to their common origin in the spiritual koine that began to emerge in the Mediterranean in the second century BC, rather than to a sole and direct dependence of the latter upon the former or viceversa. Parallel religious situations produce analogous processes that do not imply borrowing, but shared concerns. For example, Hellenistic religions were deeply permeated by popularized Platonism. The aspiration to salvation through union with a divine entity and to moral and ritual purity found in both the Hellenistic mysteries and Christianity arises contemporaneously from the post-Classical individualistic, universalizing, and syncretistic climate portrayed so vividly in Apuleius' Metamorphoses. Even the Hellenistic Judaism from which Christianity was eventually to emerge is permeated by this new spirituality, in which all religions of the time participated to some extent — but most especially those that arose from its ferment.
The particular case of Orphism can only be understood within this general framework, for in its case the comparison with Christianity has been the backbone of its study for in its case. It is a clear instance of the enormous weight that ancient religious quarrels and national scholarly traditions have in shaping the terms of the question. Christian August Lobeck is generally — and dubiously — acclaimed as the first modern scholar of Orphism'. His monu mental Aglaophamus sive de theologiae mysticae graecorum causis libri tres (1829) is in fact heir to a long previous Protestant tradition of opposing Greek mysteries as irrational cults similar to Roman Catholic practice. It is in such terms that he portrays the Orphica. Orphic priests are explicitely compared to the Jesuits as apostles of a superstition that he condemns as pure phantasy devoid of any true mysticism'. Half a century later, Friedrich Nietzsche in his Birth of Tragedy and other works envisaged Orphism as a reformation of the true Dionysiac spirit, a forerunner of Christianity like Socrates, responsible for the decadence of the primitive tragic Greece°. Others held the same view from the opposite perspective, whereby Orphism was an imperfect precedent of the more advanced religion that was to come. Such was the opinion of the famous French writer Ernest Renan'°. Eduard Zeller also, the great historian of Greek philosophy, saw in Orphism, as well as in the Essenes, "the prehistory of Christianity." At the turn of the century, German scholars like Erwin Rohde, Ernst Maass, Albert Dieterich, Otto Gruppe and Robert Eisler"; the Cambridge ritualist school led by Jane Harrison — who called Orpheus "a reformer, a protestant" and said that the "blood of some real martyr may have been the seed of the new Orphic Church"; and also, with less depth and rigor but even greater imagination and popularity, the French universal cornparatist Salomon Reinach: they all saw in Orphism the proximate source of several ideological, moral and ritual elements later absorbed by the Christians. Though the majority of their hypotheses have been disproved, or at least modified, by subsequent scholarship, the works of these path-breaking scholars are not devoid of interest to the modern reader. They created the classical image of Orphism. Projecting the Christian model onto it, they posited a network of Orphic communities who read the Orphic poems as sacred texts, who celebrated rituals commemorating the sacrifice of Dionysus, and who held uniform practices and religious beliefs. The influence of such portrayals is still largely perceptible.
Other scholars went even further, and purported to find in Orphism the source of the central dogmas of Christian theology. The Italian Professor Vittorio Macchioro expressed this theory in its most radical form in several works, which attained great popularity in the twenties thanks to their clarity and audacity, and which remain as the most extreme statements of the theory of "Pan-Orphism." In Macchioro's view, St. Paul was the actual creator of the Christian theology whereby the Son of God dies for the sins of mortals and through His resurrection gains for them the promise of eternal life. This conception would be a straightforward transplantation of the Orphic myth according to which Dionysus, son of Zeus, died and was resurrected, to become the guarantor of the salvation of mortals — descendants of the Titans who sacrificed him. Christ's theological character is, according to Macchioro, the direct result of the transposition of the Orphic Dionysus into Biblical categories, and the system of Christian salvation stems directly from the Orphic one. Other scholars, like the French liberal priest Alfred Loisy, were heavily influenced by this portrait."
To Macchioro's claims, the most conclusive — and, being devoid of apologetic interest, the most objective — response was that provided in 1925 by Andre Boulanger, one of the most sensible and qualified experts in Greek religion of his time. The French professor demonstrated, with arguments that remain valid today, that Macchioro's theory, besides presenting a much-distorted image of Orphism, did not meet any of the aforementioned conditions enunciated by Clemen. Dionysus's sacrifice is not voluntary and does not bring redemption, but is precisely the crime that condemns mankind. In addition, Boulanger demonstrates the very low probability of any direct Orphic influence upon Paul, given the very slight evidence we have of Orphism's presence in the first century and the lack of any trace in the New Testament. Boulanger's work succeeded in refuting Macchioro over the long term, and though the Italian scholar still published a well-known English version of his writings in 1930 under the programmatic title From Orpheus to Paul: A History of Orphism, this path was abandoned. The question of Christianity and Orphism has not been directly posed again, though its shadow is always present in the scholarly discussion. Once the question of direct influence seemed out of place, attention turned elsewhere.
Boulanger's work preceded by only a few years, and to some extent heralded, the sceptical reaction that would shortly place in doubt the very existence of Orphism — and that would cause its disappearance from academic literature for almost forty years. The main cause of "Orpheo-scepticism" then and now, in fact, is a thorough rejection of these early attempts to extrapolate Christian elements into a reconstructed "Orphism." The champions of the reaction — Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Möllendorff, André-Jean Festugiere, Ivan Linforth, and Eric Robertson Dodds — protested justifiably against arbitrary visions of an "Orphic Church," complete with communities, dogmas and common rites for which there were no literary witnesses, and which was accordingly best explained as a result of the semi-conscious projection of a template derived from primitive Christianity onto a subject area in which little hard evidence existed." But the sceptics themselves were not entirely objective: if they were ready to criticize "the unconscious projections upon the screen of Antiquity of certain unsatisfied religious longings characteristic of the late 19th and early 20th centuries" (Dodds 1951, 148) in the classical reconstruction of Orphism, they were not themselves free of their own religious agendas. Repugnance for elements that might stain a pure and idealized, Winkelmannian view of Classical Greece is clearly detectable in Wilamowitz or Linforth. On the other hand, Father Festugière, the pride of Jesuit scholarship, was all too ready to reject the idea of pagan precedents for Christian beliefs and rituals. Finally, a certain Protestant vision of a "Puritan" reform of ritual religion can still be traced in the work of Dodds, who also accepted some other key postulates of previous scholarship, like Dionysiac sacramentalism and Orphic original sin.
Since the 1960s, new discoveries have returned Orphism to a central place in studies of Greek religion and philosophy, and the topic has since been freed of its crudest deformations. I will shortly be returning to the question of what precisely is to be understood by the term "Orphism." For the present it is sufficient to point out that recent studies do not take its historical relationship to Christianity as their central concern. Rather, they are concerned with a phenomenological comparison between religions of salvation intended to illuminate aspects of both, and refrain as far as possible from excessive extrapolation. Mutual borrowing and syncretism are plausible in some contexts of direct contact, but these sporadic assimilations are better explained as a result (rather than as the cause) of the typological affinities between them, as we shall see at the end of the present study. The prevailing principle healthily tries to focus more on analogies among diverse elements than upon establishing a dubious genealogy between them.
It is now necessary to take up again the question of the relationship between Orphism and Christianity, which has been at a standstill since the 1930s. Several studies dealing with related matters have referred tangentially to the subject, with brilliant results". The question, however, has not been directly tackled again, as if the lack of any new approach had made researchers afraid of simply repeating well-known topics, or of falling into the same mistakes as their predecessors. A part of the resistance to dealing with the question arises, furthermore, from the vagueness of the terms concerned. This work attempts to avoid both problems by fixing clearly the limits of the questions it poses and the testimonies it uses to discuss them. Its central concern is to study the Orphic tradition that Christians knew, assumed, or rejected in the first five centuries of our era. This raises some new questions and provides some heretofore neglected sources for understanding what Orphism was in Antiquity. The problem of influence has been left to the end, as a validation of what the new approaches can contribute to old questions.
The scope and definition of the various terms involved in such an investigation will be discussed in this chapter. First, however, it is necessary to observe that neither "Christianity" nor "Orphism" are immutable and self-contained realities — despite the tendency of the apologists and their many modern scholarly descendants to present them in this light. Both possess considerable fluidity within their temporal, spatial, and ideological limits. The Orphism contemporary with Christianity is different from that of the Classical period, though of course, lines of continuity between the two can be traced. Moreover, Orphism overlaps with several philosophical, literary, and religious traditions, through which it coincides with Christianity in the Hellenistic spiritual koine as a whole, far removed from any uniform orthodoxy. Chapters II and III will accordingly describe, on the basis of the available literary, epigraphic, papyrological and iconographic material, the character of the Orphic tradition in the Imperial age and the nature of its direct and indirect encounters with Christianity. These chapters, therefore, will depict a very fluid panorama, in which sections are instrumental for presenting the evidence but by no means closed compartiments.
Such is the context within which several Christian authors of the second to fifth centuries AD make their multiple references to Orphism. Chapters IV, V and VI, on the other hand, will depart from the strict distinctions introduced by apologetic texts. The description of Orphism detailed in the first part of the book serves as a counterpoint and yardstick for the Christian texts that are studied in the second. In previous works, the near-exclusive attention paid to the question of Orphic influence on the central tenets of Christianity naturally demanded an overwhelming focus on the New Testament — and in particular upon the Pauline texts, in which any passing reference to Orphism is undetectable'. The attention paid to subsequent Christian authors, however — whose contact with Greek culture and religion is much more intense than that of the previous generation, and who confront a movement toward which they show ambiguous and mixed reactions — has been much less. Yet these texts are fundamental to understanding not only the Orphism of the Imperial age, but also that of the Classical period, on three levels.
First, much of the material that we have for the reconstruction of Orphism — very considerable in its quantity, and of great importance for its quality — comes from Christian sources: it is enough to look at the index fontium of the editions of Orphica. However, this material must not be used without first analysing the sources, intentions, and manipulations of the author who transmits it, since the apologetic literature is anything other than innocent and neutral. Crucial testimonies (such as Dionysus's sacrifice as reported by Clement of Alexandria) have been excerpted from Christian sources without adequate account being taken of their origin, or of the alterations the text may have suffered in the hands of these authors. Sometimes related apologetic passages are treated as independent testimonies, when in fact they have been derived directly from each other in such a way that these apparently numerous witnesses in reality can be seen to resolve ultimately into a single source. Other times, Christian texts have failed to receive the attention they deserve, and evidence that might help us add to or piece together the Orphic puzzle has been overlooked. Chapter IV will deal with these tasks.
Secondly, the analysis of the sources and contents of the Christian texts offers the materials to undertake an indispensable task: a systematic exposition of their strategies. This aspect of the study has, besides its direct usefulness for the analysis of the Orphic evidence, its own inherent value: Orphism is an excellent mirror within which the diverse Christian attitudes toward traditional Greek religion and culture are reflected. Chapter V thus amounts almost to a study in miniature of the Christian strategy in confrontation with the pagan world: it will show how different apologists act when confronted with the same phenomenon — sometimes in unison and at other times with total divergence, spanning a range of attitudes that runs from total assimilation of Orphism to its most absolute rejection. It is not exceptional that both attitudes and diverse intermediate possibilities coexist in one single author. If Orphism is a flexible and often ungraspable category within the extremely fluid field of Greek religion, apologetics likes neat distinctions and firm boundaries: their mutual encounter provokes extremely interesting results. In modern bibliography, one frequently finds more or less accurate generalizations about a subject as ambiguous and diverse as the Christian reception of Greek culture." Orphism presents itself as a simplified testing-ground for research in this area, while remaining at the same time a topic broad enough to bring together and mobilize an array of characteristic Christian strategies that have to a large extent determined its transmission and reception up to our days.
Thirdly, the apologists" are an extremely authoritative source — if obviously a subjective and partial one — regarding the contested question of the similarities and differences between Orphism and Christianity. The perceptions of Christians themselves regarding which aspects of a living tradition in direct competition with their own were similar to or different from their practice — or which elements could be considered compatible with Christian teaching, and which were to be rejected out of hand — should be a guide of great value, if not of absolute accuracy, in reconsidering the question. Scant attention has been paid to the opinions of the Christians concerning whether, and to what extent, Orphism might be considered a proto-Christianity. Of course, the apologists will be the first to project Christian categories onto an Orphism defined by quite different parameters — and it is from these original projections that many of the modern ones are derived. Once conscious of this danger, however, and of the necessity of "de-Christianizing" the information they provide, direct interrogation of these authors' works throws new light on the theological content and religious experience of Orphism. If an external assessment of a phenomenon necessarily distorts it to some extent, it may also be valuable for the new perspectives it is capable of opening up —perspectives which must be taken into account, and which have the potential to reveal points of detail and differentiation imperceptible from a purely internal viewpoint. This task will be attempted in chapter VI.
From its title through to its final chapter, this book uses a number of terms whose interpretation is not uncontroversial, and it should, therefore, be clarified from the beginning in which sense they are to be understood. The use of abstractions in order to understand better the phenomena under discussion is an entirely valid scholarly strategy. An extreme deconstructionism that leads us not to nuance our understanding of general terms, but rather to entirely deny their validity, sometimes simply paralyzes. It is also true, however, that abstract concepts, even as they organize the realities they denote, throw light upon some areas and leave others in darkness. There is also a degree of risk in the mutability of labels, which have the potential to shift in meaning depending upon who is using them, and when. If, however, some consensus can be forged concerning the basic meaning of terms in scholarly discourse, these dangers are minimized, and the advantage of such terms' use becomes obvious. This need is especially urgent in relation to our topic: to the question "What is Orphism?" some scholars have answered "everything," and others have decided it is "nothing." Echoing Sieyès, it would perhaps be better to find "something" in it that turns it into a useful concept.
A second danger is that of being carried away by the linguistic mechanism of supplying every identified `-ism' with a group of followers usefully denoted by the suffix `-ist' or its equivalent. One must avoid the comfortable symmetry of assuming for the sake of apparent consistency that there is a regular relationship between any abstract ideology and its followers and adherents. It is clear that to be a communist and to be a classicist are not existential choices of the same order. A similar disproportion can be found in relation to ancient Mithraism, Orphism, or Hermeticism — which, as we shall see, do not all define their followers in the same manner. It will accordingly be necessary to address also the problem of the so-called "Orphics."
It is, however, desirable to extend the debate on the various -isms of antiquity no further than necessary. Some of these can be easily dismissed in favour of an obviously preferable alternative: for example, I will not use "Dionysism" because the expression "cult of Dionysus" expresses the reality in a much more concrete manner. Other terms, such as "Judaism" or "Gnosticism," are taken in a general sense long sanctioned by academic tradition, and there is no cause to question them here, where they are not the core of the study. It will be sufficient to specify in what sense I use the three terms most fundamental to this inquiry: Christianity, paganism and, in particular, Orphism.
The mere contraposition of "Christianity" and "paganism" should arouse a certain fear in the breast of the experienced reader. The religious situation of the Roman Empire was of such fluidity that any classification in terms of narrowly defined compartments betrays a bookish artificiality that hardly corresponds to the reality. The boundaries among orthodox Christianity, heretical and heterodox movements, the various branches of Judaism, the Gnostic movements, and the diverse array of Greek and Eastern cults were highly permeable. To say "Christianity" without further ado simplifies this complexity excessively. When theological ideas of Christian derivation are discussed, it is always necessary to indicate who it is that asserts or defends them, and when. Nevertheless, precisely because I am concerned not with the theological propositions made in Christian literature, but with its apologetic content and with the strategies this entails, the classification of the authors I will be discussing as "Christians" without further ado is here well warranted. For the purposes of this study, inquiry is focused not upon questions concerning orthodoxy or the Church as a whole, but on those thinkers whose writings on Orphism remain extant. A fundamental aim of the apologetic literature is to delimit clearly what Christianity is and what it is not. If we were to judge these authors by their theological ideas, the conception of Christianity would change according to each one. Some of the authors we are interested in were considered heretics by their contemporaries (for instance Tatian, Tertullian, and Hippolytus), while others supported ideas rejected by later orthodox belief (Origen). All of them, however, share the intention of establishing, in a free-flowing reality, a fixed and clear boundary between Christian truth (according to the more or less orthodox conception of each author) and "pagan" error.
The use of the latter term is the lesser evil. It is true that "paganism" is a construction of apologetics, whereby the term is employed to designate anything that is neither Christian nor Jewish, nor even heretical — in general terms, then, the traditional Greek and Roman religions and the new cults that had arisen in the Hellenistic age. "Paganism," in other words, denotes a variety of cults and trends that seem too heterogeneous to be adequately comprehended under a common term. We will see in Chapter V the central role that the Orphic tradition played in the creation of this concept by the apologists. Attention will also be paid to the role of Orphism in the syncretic and unifying tendencies seen in the traditional Greek and Roman religions themselves — tendencies which accelerate in the Imperial age, in part because of gathering resistance to Christianity. In any case, the term "pagan" is inherently biased, as it is an entirely Christian formulation. But its use, if the negative undertones it may have had in the past are set aside, remains much simpler than the lengthy periphrases that would be necessary were it much banished — e. g. "an adherent of any non-Jewish, non-Christian sect in the Greco-Roman world." Other terms used by the Christians themselves, such as "Gentile" or "Greek," are if anything even more biased. Once note has been taken that the notion of "paganism" is a late artifact of apologetic rhetoric, there is no excessive risk in using the terms "paganism" and "pagans," and qualifying these more precisely where necessary.
Nevertheless, such reductive terminology is far less appropriate with regard to the problem of Orphism, concerning which, for over a century now, there has raged one of the most impassioned debates in the history of Classical Studies, almost comparable to the Homeric Question in its intensity and duration. As was explained in the previous section, only its relation to Christianity brought forth a long and intense debate between scholars of many different countries and orientations. Before explaining in what sense I think the term may be used appropriately, it will be necessary to dedicate a few paragraphs to the succinct exploration of the traditional understanding of the term "Orphism," and some of the issues that surround it.
In its nineteenth-century reconstruction, Orphism emerged as a religious movement born in the sixth century BC under the authority of the mythical singer Orpheus. It is supposed to have arisen as a reform of the traditional cult of Dionysus, whose orgiastic and ecstatic aspects would have been redefined by a minority group in mystical and eschatological terms. This trend is held to introduce for the first time in Greece the idea that the soul is enclosed in the body as punishment for a primordial fault — specifically, the crime committed by the Titans, the ancestors of mortals, when they tore to pieces and devoured Dionysus, son of the supreme god Zeus and Persephone. As a result, the soul is condemned to suffer a cycle of reincarnations from body into body, as well as torments in the Afterlife, until it expiates its ancient fault and can thereby enjoy the happy everlasting life to which its immortal nature aspires. Salvation is achieved by obtaining Persephone's forgiveness through participation in the Bacchic rites (teletai) and the observance of conduct that assures purification: an Orphic life (orphikos bios) demands — in addition to some imprecise references to justice — observance of a series of dietetic and clothing taboos, including, most importantly, a strict vegetarianism derived from the belief in reincarnation. The followers of this doctrine, transmitted in poems attributed to Orpheus, who practise the rites supposedly founded by him, and who observe an Orphic lifestyle, might thus be termed "Orphics."
Leaving aside the excesses of pan-Orphism, which have been previously discussed, such a reconstruction remains the classic image of Orphism that, with a number of variations, remains current today. It is based on extant fragments of Orphic poetry and on the information about Orpheus and his rites transmitted by diverse authors in Antiquity. There is also some papyrological and epigraphic evidence associated with these references — in particular, the gold tablets found in tombs that instruct the soul in how to reach salvation in the Afterlife. All these pieces of evidence have been collected in the last two centuries in various philological editions of Orphica, which, very different though they are, have all departed from the picture of Orphism described above, and they have contributed to fixing it in place by transmitting the remains of an Orphic corpus that, it is implied, would have been much broader.' The most careful and balanced portrait of the classical reconstruction of Orphism is owed to W. K. C. Guthrie, whose Orpheus and Greek Religion continues to be widely read, translated and influential today26.
Against this reconstruction, the aforementioned "Orpheosceptical" reaction arose — and still retains its credibility in Anglo-Saxon and German circles. Apart from denouncing the projection of Christian categories, as we have seen, its main arguments were two. First, there is no proof of the existence of any religious group known as the "Orphics" in the Classical period. The only witnesses who use the term orphikoi to refer not to Orphic poets, but to believers who describe their religious affiliation in these terms, are the Neoplatonists, who suppose these beliefs to have inspired Plato; and this is clearly no proof of their existence one thousand years earlier. Second, it is maintained that under the label of "Orphism" scholars have gathered into a single artificial constructum a series of late testimonies of Orphic poems; theological and anthropological ideas, whether of general circulation or derived from Plato, arising in Hellenistic times, or even in Christian and Neoplatonic writings; and a number of ritual rules associated with the name of Orpheus, but with nothing to indicate that they are intended to form a coherent system. In the sceptical view, there is in fact no Orphic reality separable from such well-known and documented phenomena as Pythagoreanism, the cult of Dionysus, or the Eleusinian mysteries, with which the figure of Orpheus has sometimes been linked. A vague and inconsistent relationship with some particular mythical character is not sufficient to give unity to all the material claimed for it. Taken at face value, as the most penetrating of the sceptics observed, the contemporary reconstruction of Orphism would appear to subsume "the entire religion of teletae and mysteries.' The label, it was felt, was so general that it had become empty of meaning, and ought to be abolished.
This abolition was in fact achieved for almost four decades, until new discoveries in the second half of the century disproved some of the sceptical theses. The Derveni Papyrus — a document serendipitously preserved when it fell off a funeral pyre and was dried rather than consumed by the flames —demonstrates the existence in the Classical period of Orphic theogonies evidently taken as authoritative in connection with mystery rituals. Newly discovered gold tablets reveal a perceived connection between hopes for the happiness of the soul in the Afterlife and the Bacchic mysteries. A bone tablet found in Olbia (Crimea) with the inscription OPOIKOI seems to testify to the existence of a Dionysian thiasus of Orphics in the fifth century BC. All this new evidence shifted scholarly trends. The endorsement of Walter Burkert and his followers, along with the Italian school of historians of religion and lately the Spanish school formed around Alberto Bernabé's edition, has restored "Orphism" as a respectable and academically accepted term."
Apart from the new evidence, new approaches replaced dogma and Christianity as the main focus of scholarly interest in religion. Social questions were asked where the influence of Marxism, of 1968, or of post-colonial anthropology was evident. Orphism was now interesting not as a forerunner of Christianity, but as a protest movement of deviation, repressed by a monolithic polis. The Parisian school has been particularly incisive in this approach". Neither has the long tradition of oralist approaches to early Greek poetry in the United States left the Orphic material untouched: notions like "competing traditions" and "performance" have made a startling appearance in the old discussions." However, if such perspectives have found new interest in Orphism, there have also been forceful reactions against its coming back onto the stage. On the one hand, traditional philology proudly maintains a purist distrust of any construction that does not spring directly from the text, preferably a written one." On the opposite side of the picture, the post-modern taste for deconstruction recovered the sceptical arguments in order to fight against an "—ism" instinctively seen as a distorting modern construct. To be sure, the debate is not focused on just one matter, whether Orphism existed or not. There are many different interpretations of each set of evidence (the gold leaves, the myth of the Titans, the reconstruction of the theogonies, etc.). Yet each position on any of these subjects relies heavily on a particular approach to the broader Orphic question."
The use of the term "Orphism" has, therefore, become popular again, if with widely varying interpretations and with much greater nuance than before. Terminology has been refined, and comparisons are made with extreme care. The overlap of Orphism with Dionysiac cult, the Eleusinian mysteries, and Pythagoreanism is insistently underlined, as is the lack of any central governing authority that defined doctrine or ritual practice. Emphasis is placed on the open, uncanonical character of Orphic literature, the itinerant diffusion of Orphic cults, and their evolution under the influence of individual and local circumstances and interests.
Too often, however, this praiseworthy insistence on methodological rigour is confined to prologues and introductions, and is shortly abandoned in favour of again discussing Orphism as though it were a coherent system into which all our scattered pieces of evidence may neatly be fitted, as if a central authority, whose existence is emphatically denied, had disposed them somehow — the very image of Orphics living an Orphic life and performing a few standardized rituals in accordance with doctrines transmitted by the Orphic poems seems to exert an irresistible fascination on the scholarly imagination, not least due to the preexistent Christianizing pattern according to which the Orphic evidence is semiconsciously classified. I cannot pretend to be entirely free from this fault, so congenital to the scholars of Orphism, and it is possible that an attentive reading of this book will detect several stumbles into the old traps. Nonetheless, I hope at least to delineate clearly herein the distinction between my ideas of Orphism and either its traditional reconstruction or pure scepticism." I will, in other words, attempt to outline as simply as possible what I consider to be the most plausible path between an ars nesciendi that refuses to elaborate the data in order to render them comprehensible and a comfortable adherence to a long-falsified construction.
Three previous warnings, however, are relevant here. First, the following reflections do not attempt to collect and analyze the entire corpus of evidence, but only to justify the use of terms foundational to this study — although they do provide a preliminary sketch of the portrait that will be developed in the following chapters. Second, I will be dealing now only with the Orphism of the Classical period, reserving discussion of its evolution as a tradition in the Hellenistic and Imperial age for later in the book. Third, it will be necessary for the sake of clarity to discuss first the nature of Orphic myths and ideas, deferring for the moment consideration of the existence of the Orphics, more tied to the problem of the rites.
I begin by accepting the minimal definition at which Linforth arrived after an exhaustive examination of the material known in 1941: Orphism is the theology of the mysteries." However, this broadness of reference, which for the American philologist was proof of the term's uselessness, is instead taken here as indicating its centrality as a spiritual and intellectual phenomenon in Classical Greece — and hence in Western culture. To borrow Ugo Bianchi's expression (1978), Orphism represents the earliest stage of Greek mysteriosophy. It is the theological elaboration of the mythical and ritual elements, as well as of the experience, of the traditional Greek mysteries: an intellectual process, which finds its expression in poems, rites and beliefs governed by this speculation. It is a mediate theorizing of immediate experience, which does not fall like a meteor upon traditional Greek religion, but arises from it as a strange but natural fruit. That the mystery cults of the Classical period were focused primarily not on doctrinal content, nor even upon eschatological hope, but on the experience that the special relationship to the worshipped god prompted hic et nunc, is well established in the secondary literature (e. g. Burkert 1987). It is evident, however, that some of the initiators, and perhaps also those to be initiated, turned their minds not only to consideration of the ritual acts themselves, but to theological and anthropological questions perceived to be implicit in them. It is important to bear in mind the spatial and temporal coincidence of Orphism with Presocratic philosophy — with which it exhibits multiple correspondences and links, though differing from it in its preservation of traditional moulds and its reluctance to create new forms of literary and ritual expression". This restriction both marks its cultural limits and, at the same time, confers upon it a cultural authority derived from the prestige of its supposed antiquity. The maintenance of traditional cultural forms is to be expected of speculation arising from the mysteries themselves, as is the attribution of these to Orpheus, poet and cult-patron. The existence of a written transmission, another of the distinctive features of Orphism, however, allows this speculation to innovate, sometimes with considerable audacity, on the basis of this traditional anchorage.
Thus, the most characteristic and famous ideas of Orphism — the "drops of foreign blood" whose origin has often been sought in some source other than "the veins of the Greeks" — are actually a theologizing reading of notions inherent to the mysteries, rather than the result of different Eastern influences. That the soul must be purified of an original fault inherited from the cosmic ancestors, the Titans, is an elaboration of a central concern with the faults of human ancestors whose punishment the descendants inherit, unless they are purified of them. The ascetic prescriptions believed to constitute the orphikos bios — that is to say, to refrain from shedding blood, eating certain foods, wearing certain clothes, and perhaps from sexual intercourse, along with a commitment to just behaviour — are precisely the same ritual requirements inscribed upon temples for cultic practitioners before their approach to the deity. Orphism simply extends to the practitioner's entire life the ritual and/or moral purity that were only temporarily and momentarily necessary in cultic worship." The hope of religious fulfilment in the Afterlife, with the revaluation of the soul over the body and the future life over the present, looks like the result of theorizing about, and an attempt to explain, the experience of momentary ecstasy attained in ritual — in particular, in the cult of Dionysus — with the aim of rendering permanent its breaking of spatial and temporal limits!' In the Afterlife as described by the gold tablets (and by Plato more orphico), Memory guarantees immortality, and Oblivion means death, and the sources of memory and of oblivion appear in the oracle of Trophonius, with multiple echoes in the mysteries. But even beyond the religious sphere, both concepts played a central role in the immortality attained in epic glory, from which Orphism seems so removed at first sight: in epic, the hero must be remembered in order to survive, while in Orphism he must remember to be saved!' The notions are opposed (from being the object to being the subject of memory), but the formulae to express them are similar, because this speculation develops Greek traditional ideas not only compatible with the cults of the mysteries, but in fact latent within them. The theory of reincarnation, according to which particular bodies are irrelevant to the identity of a soul that bears the imprint of its divine lineage (genos), revives and reinterprets the conventional Greek understanding whereby the life or death of individual generations do not matter, and stable identity is found instead in the continuity of the family genos. From the traditional pessimism that finds its archetypal expression in Theognis' gnomai that the best possible fate is never to have been born, there is only a short step — if one of enormous importance — to the Orphic slogan soma-sema (the body is the prison of the soul), and this is its elaboration in speculative terms. In effecting this transfer from traditional wisdom to innovative cosmo-theology, the Orphic theologian-poets cultivate traditional genres, such as the theogony, the hymn, and the katabasis, albeit freighting them with new theological messages.
The list of traditional religious conceptions elaborated and theologized by Orphism could be greatly extended, but these examples will be sufficient. Orphism attains a general language higher than concrete particularities, overcoming the local and ethnic divisions so deeply rooted in all Greek cults, be they mystic or not. In the same way that personal identity is established in terms of a celestial lineage (genos ouranion) beyond the barriers of family genos or of the polis, the main divinities of Orphism do not have local character either: Dionysus, Persephone, Zeus, and their myths and theologies are not centred, unlike in other cults, upon a local sanctuary. On the contrary, such pan-Hellenic deities tend to be united within overarching theogonies that serve to elide local variations and specificities. The explicit or implicit identification of superficially distinct gods with each other in the Orphic hymns and theogonies reinforces this henotheistic tendency, which purports to find within diverse cults indications of a sole and unique divinity who dominates the cosmos as a whole!' Orphic theological speculation, then, not only is pan-Hellenic, but also stretches beyond the boundaries of Greece and Greek culture, to attain an all-embracing perspective that facilitates the evident Egyptian, Mesopotamian, and Persian influences on Orphic thought!'
Who could be a better patron of this trend than Orpheus? Himself not Greek, but a Thracian of divine lineage whose figure no local cult could appropriate as its sole right, his mythical experiences as poet, traveller to distant lands, voyager into Hades and founder of religious cults gave him special authority to stamp his imprimatur on poems and rites. The common ascription of these to his figure is, for the sceptics, the only factor that unites them all, whereas supporters of the existence of a unified Orphism believe that such attributions occur because of their common ideological background. The absolute lack of a closed canon or of a central authority could not help but lead to an open tradition spreading out in multiple directions. But leaving aside works in minor genres, such as astrology or botany, that were attributed to Orpheus in later times, the main points of focus in Orphic speculation are three: theo-cosmogony, eschatology, and anthropology. Let us examine briefly each of these fields, postponing for later consideration the crucial question of their mutual relationship.
The first quotations of Orphic poetry come from theogonies in the same tradition as Hesiod's, but with significant variations. The Orphic poets maintain the same general outline with regard to the primordial gods and to the myth of Olympian divine succession, but the traditional theogonic images (sexual generation, gulping up as means of engendering) are here used to express new conceptions, which seem to be the theogonic parallel to the monism expressed in prose by Presocratic philosophers such as the Ionians or Anaxagoras, who are free from the bounds of poetic forms and images. The theogony of the Derveni Papyrus — dated approximately in the 5th century BC — depicts Zeus as the god who "became the only one" , becoming pregnant with the entire cosmos and the gods after devouring everything into himself, and then subsequently "conceiving it" again, so that Zeus becomes "the first, the last and the middle one." The author's fidelity to the theogonic images, which are polytheistic by nature, tortuously complicates the expression of a monistic vision. Orphic theogonies, nevertheless, enjoyed surprising success, giving rise, as we shall see, to variants, imitations, and applications in a wide array of contexts.
At the other end of the spectrum of Orphic speculation lies eschatology. One recurrent element in Orphic sources is to locate in death the key to true life — an inversion more extreme than that found in the traditional mysteries, which are less marked by the hope of an Afterlife. As a consequence, depiction of the blessings and punishments of the next world seems to have been a favorite topic of Orphic poets. A poetic tradition about the descent to Hades (katabasis) was attributed to Orpheus, which in itself is hardly surprising, since according to the myth Orpheus went down to the kingdom of the dead in search of his wife Eurydice. Though very little of these poems has been preserved, we have a certain idea of their contents. Plato's eschatological myths are very probably inspired by Orphic eschatology. The most valuable testimonies, however, are the gold tablets, the hexametric lines of which are probably derived from a poem narrating the descent of the soul to the other world, followed by an ascent to the realm of the blessed. Probably the voice in which these verses are sung is that of Orpheus (which other poet had experience of Hades?); but this is not necessary to establish a relationship with Or phism, since their correspondences to other Orphic witnesses are very clear." These poems represent a theological version of the traditional genre of the hero's descent into the underworld (that of Heracles, for instance), in order to rescue another from death by avoiding the dangers posed by the infernal realms and persuading Hades and Persephone to relinquish their captive. Now, however, the soul is the hero that, in a similar way — if under very different circumstances — must find his own salvation.
At a midpoint between the distant domains of theogony and eschatology stands the famous myth of Dionysus' sacrifice by the Titans. Dionysus, as offspring of the incestuous union of Zeus and his daughter Persephone, is directly linked to the contents of the Orphic theogonic traditions; on the other hand, at least in some versions, mortals sprang from the ashes of the Titans when they were thunderstruck by Zeus, which has fundamental anthropological implications intimately connected with eschatology. If the life of the soul in the body is expiation for the primordial fault of the cosmic ancestors of mankind, only after death can this atonement come to an end. There may, of course, have been divergent versions and interpretations of the myth of the Titans. However, in spite of sceptical doubts, it seems clear that the anthropological implications derived from it date back to the Classical period.49 It is tempting to see in the myth of the Titans the cornerstone that gives unity to the whole Orphic building. Such temptation not only exists for us. It is very probable that the Rhapsodies — a collection of the Orphic theogonies compiled in the first century BC — outlined a path from the theogonic origins of the cosmos up to the eschatological destination of the soul, the two being linked by means of the myth of the Titans. Nevertheless, it is necessary to exercise caution in supposing that all Orphic poetry followed the apparently tidy structure of this late compilation.
The connection between cosmogony and eschatology is a desideratum of modern scholarship, reluctant to conceive of a religious doctrine that is not systematic. Yet such connection is far from assured. A wide array of theogonies and eschatological claims circulated under the name of Orpheus, and not all were compelled to follow the same arrangement. Undoubtedly, there exist some lines of continuity between theogonic interests and Orphic eschatological concerns: theogonies were sung in rituals, the focus of which can be supposed to be the salvation of the soul, and some cosmogonic Orphic accounts may have had eschatological import. But not all Orphic poetry had to deal with anthropogony and eschatology, and not even all Orphic anthropogony had to originate in the myth of the Titans. There are no indications — though the possibility cannot be completely ruled out — that the Derveni theogony continued up to the destruction of Dionysus, since the extant papyrus ends with Zeus's recreation of the universe. Nor should it necessarily be taken for granted that works of theo-cosmogony, anthropology, and eschatology were invariably ascribed to Orpheus. The katabasis of the soul that underlies the texts of the tablets may be Orphic, but its attribution to Orpheus is no more than a supposition, and nothing connects it, in any case, with the theogonic poems. In addition, there is no explicit link between Orpheus and the myth of the Titans before the Hellenistic Age. The testimonies adduced to prove that by the Classical period Orpheus was already the obvious poet of the myth are not wholly conclusive, while Plato's attitude, which seems to accept the myth and many other elements of Orphism while deriding and mocking the figure of Orpheus himself, seems to indicate that the two were readily dissociable.
The same lack of systematization can be found in other areas of Orphic theological speculation. Vegetarianism, belief in reincarnation, and the assertion that the soul's fundamental flaw arose with the rebellion of the Titans, for example, were independent elements that on occasion might be presented in a coherent and interrelated fashion — but they did not always have to be so presented. The gold tablets, for example, appear to allude to the myth of the Titans, but contain little indication of an interest in reincarnation, the only exception being an ambiguous reference to a cycle in one of them, and it would certainly be arbitrary to conclude that the users of the tablets were vegetarians. The appearance of a new tablet containing the name of Orpheus would in fact add very little to what we know of the theological constructions they reflect. Any construction — as for instance Empedocles' poems — will necessarily privilege certain elements from within this broad range of speculation and reject others, or at least pass over them in silence.
The attempt to define a coherent Orphic ideology "from creation to salvation,"" then, is doomed to failure not only for lack of proof, but because it fails to take into account the dispersed and always isolated contexts in which our information appears. We are dealing with an array of speculations containing many common elements, but which remains unorganized except for the particular systematizations imposed by particular individuals, as in the case of Empedocles and certain Pythagoreans. Why, then, does so loosely defined a process of speculation deserve to be called Orphism?
The question is whether a phenomenon including elements as diverse as the theogony of the Derveni Papyrus and the gold tablets, lacking any obvious relationship between them, deserves a unitary and unifying label. And the response is in the affirmative, because both, like the rest of Orphic speculation, are attempts to create an abstract and non-local language departing from traditional cultural forms such as the katabasis and theogony, in order to express speculative insights arising from the religious experiences of the traditional Greek mysteries. The directions taken by these theological speculations are diverse, and their conclusions cannot necessarily be deduced from one another; but their concerns are not incompatible, tending as they do to converge in line with their common inspiration and method of inquiry.
One of the points of convergence (the clearest and latest being the compilation of the Rhapsodies) is the name of Orpheus, to whom is attributed much of the theology of the mysteries.
"Orphism," then, is a conventional label that ought to be kept because of the lack of any feasible alternative and because it has been consecrated by academic tradition. Though it will be necessary to qualify the term in many cases — to refer specifically, say, to Orphic eschatology or anthropology — it is possible to claim without valid objection that all these areas are related to Orphism and to investigate such general features as are common to the whole field of study and the diverse particular elements that it comprehends, some of them key to Western spiritual history. It is true that the term has behind it an entire history of misunderstandings, but the word remains useful, when employed with caution, to describe a cultural phenomenon that demands some sort of denomination. Dodds' purposefully anachronistic "Puritanism" is more vague, and Bianchi's "mysteriosophy" is broader in scope, since it includes later stages like Hermeticism and Gnosticism, while reductionist terms such as "Bacchic mysteries" or "Pythagoreanism" can exclude indispensable testimonies. On the other hand, the restriction of sources to testimonies authorized by the name of Orpheus, along with other, clearly connected phenomena such as the tablets, may ignore some evidence that could be intimately related to them, and perhaps it may include some other pieces that are only superficially linked to the general phenomenon. But the portrait of the process of theorization and intellectual unification of the mysteries will be trustworthy in its general lines.
As a process of speculation arising from the experience of the mysteries, Orphism is at the same time something more and something less than this experience: Aristotle said (fr. 15 Rose) that one became initiated in order not to learn (mathein) but to experience (pathein). From the evidence we have, it appears that Orphism placed more emphasis on the former than on the latter: it is sufficient to observe that in such clearly ritual-related evidence as the tablets, the knowledge that the initiated should possess is much more important than any ritual action undertaken. The consequences are clear: a group brought together by intellectual speculation — even supposing that several people take part in it — is far less stable and characterized by less tight bonds of belonging than a group defined by the celebration of a ritual and the shared experience this produces. Such considerations raise in turn the question of the "Orphics."
A purely intellectual and literary tradition may broaden the domain of thought and speculation, but it does not create stable groups around this domain. The case of ritual traditions, however, may be different. From Herodotus up to the end of Antiquity references to Orphic rites occur, and possibly many of the later ones allude to rituals that exist only in the imagination of those who mention them (Chapter II). However, authentic proofs of the celebration of rituals under the auspices of Orpheus in the Classical period do exist, as it would be only logical to expect: if Orphic speculation arises from the experience of the rites, it also, in turn, has the potential to generate other rituals — as attested by the presence of Orphic verses in the tablets or in the Gurob Papyrus (OF 578), which documents a telete. Legomena and dromena go hand in hand in these cases. The question is whether these rituals possessed a certain degree of uniformity, referred to the same myths and ideas, and implied similar prescriptions and ritual actions — that is to say, whether groups of people with more or less common beliefs gathered around them, in order to fulfil similar rites. In this case they could appropriately be called "Orphics," whether or not this was the name they gave to themselves. A relative ideological and ritual uniformity allows one to speak with confidence about the beliefs and rites of "the initiates of Isis or Mithra" despite the absence of any term such as "Isiacs" or "Mithraics." On the other hand, the rites associated with Hermetic literature are so vaporous and changeable that one cannot speak of "Hermeticists.' There are Orphic rites, but is it possible to talk about "Orphic mysteries"?
The fact is that proofs of the existence of such ritual and ideological uniformity are nearly non-existent, and many indications point entirely in the other direction. The only clear reference to doctrinal or ritual uniformity, the mention of an orphikos bios, the "Orphic life," by Plato, occurs in the plural, and is used to denote some imprecise lifestyle that existed in a remote period, the precepts of which do not differ from those of the well-known Pythagorean life." Plato's statement, then, hardly demonstrates the existence of a uniform doctrinal formulation of Orphic rules. Instead, the sources do depict the social reflection of Orphic rites, involving two types of agents. On the one hand, there existed itinerant priests who conducted initiations in their teletai with varying degrees of sincerity and commitment — morally exemplary specimens of this group being in rather short supply, according to the critics who caricature them.° Burkert's classic 1982 study demonstrated that these initiators were very far from attaining the organisational level of, say, a collegium, approximating more closely to the model of a loose guild or craft than to that of a sect — in contradistinction to, for instance, the Pythagoreans.
The other aspect of involvement relates to the recipients of these initiations, who might be individuals or even "entire cities," according to Plato's account. In the latter case, the city is not a community formed around that specific rite, but rather already exists as a group when it decides to accept joint initiation, as did Athens when it decided to undergo Epimenides' collective purification after the murder of Kylon by the Alkmaionids. As for the individuals who underwent these purification rites, they do not seem to have formed stable groups, self-conscious thiasoi, among themselves. In fact, the only group initiated as such and that retained a stable existence afterwards was the family — which as a unit exists obviously prior to and independently of Orphic initiation. Funeral rites tended to be administered within the family environment, and in addition there exist numerous references to the initiation of close relatives. That leads one to conclude that the family is the area of social shaping and of transmission of Orphic rites." But a the family, just like the city, does not become aware that it is a group by the fact of burying its dead or initiating its members in Orphic rites; on the contrary, it buries and initiates as a group precisely because it already exists as a social unit. Orphism is like a dye extending over an already-existing social fabric; it creates neither a new social environment nor a self-conscious sense of belonging to a defined and distinctive group.
It is true that both the itinerant character of the initiation rites and the universalizing theology of Orphism in themselves tend to elide the structures imposed by family and polis to focus attention upon the community of all men. The well-known Orphic saying that "many carry the thyrsos, but only a few are bacchoi" (OF 576) seems to transcend familial, polis-based, and even ethnic distinctions. But union with other mystai kai bacchoi, as promised by the Hipponion tablet (OF 474.15-16), individuals other than those already known by an initiate through his own political or family community, appears to have been reserved for the other world. The similarity among tablets from very far-flung locations does not prove anything but the expansion of the poetic and ritual tradition into widely separated areas, and any concern for uniformity, and with it a sense of community, is absolutely absent from the tablets and from our other evidence. The bacchoi look more like an imaginary spiritual community" than a social grouping, unless this might have arisen within a family context. There is no proof of the existence of any Orphic thiasos which would have blurred the boundaries of the family, and even less of the polis, in sharp contrast with Pythagorean or primitive Christian communities.
Only one, very exceptional, testimony raises the possibility that Orphic rites produced at a given time a stable thiasos conscious of its own differentiated identity: in Olbia appears the word — of doubtful reading in its last part — OPOIKOI. However, even accepting in good faith that the bone tablet proves the existence of some self-styled "Orphic" in fifth-century-BC Crimea (that is to say, on the very margins of Hellenic civilisation), this does not allow us to generalize concerning the rest of Greece. There, the pressure of official, public cult as the focus of religious identity did not encourage the creation of alternatives. It is possible — even probable — that the circulation of itinerant rites gave rise to stable groups of initiates in certain contexts. Instances of the spontaneous formation of a thiasos — crystallizations of the process of ritual diffusion — whose similarity to other groups would be at best haphazard, are, however, adventitious developments, an accidental side effect rather than the driving force of the process. If "Orphics" of this kind existed, they are far less important than the Orphic poets and theologians who led the intellectual process just described. Their disappearance without a trace is the best proof of their scarce relevance.
Thus, to turn these self-conscious "Orphics" (or in the most extreme formulation, the archetypal "Orphic") into the protagonists of the intellectual process described above heavily distorts its reality, and tends to turn Orphism once more into an organized ideological system, according to the false social portrait drawn of it. Burkert's 1977 outline of Orphism, wherein it is visualized as a circle superimposed over three different fields, better reflects the situation: there were Pythagoreans, there were initiates of the Eleusinian mysteries, and there were practitioners of Dionysiac cult. Orphics did not exist — or at least, were of marginal importance — as anything distinct from these three spheres. Instead, within these areas, Orphism spread to a greater or lesser degree. To focus the debate on whether the commentators of the Derveni Papyrus, the users of the tablets, various Pythagoreans, or even Empedocles, were or were not — or worse, did or did not call themselves or others — "Orphics" prevents us from attending to a question of much greater interest: which elements of Orphism were integrated into each of these systems. This study, therefore, will discuss Orphism, the Orphic tradition, Orphic cosmogony, anthropology and eschatology, Orphic poets and theologians, and Orphic rites, but it will never speak of "Orphics".
Christians As A Religious Minority In A Multicultural City: Modes Of Interaction And Identity Formation In Early Imperial Rome edited by Jurgen Zangenberg, Michael Labahn (Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series: T. & T. Clark Publishers) Early Imperial Rome truly was one of the most `multicultural' cities in antiquity. Juvenal even dubbed it `Greek Rome' and complained that `the waters of the Syrian Orontes flow into the Tiber' (Sat. 3,61f). Syrians, Africans, Gauls, Egyptians, Jews and other groups flocked into the city and formed their communities – as well as Christians. How did these ethnic and religious minority groups maintain and develop their identity? How did the `cultural majority' react towards these sometimes exotic groups? It turns out that early Imperial Rome did not simply function as a giant `melting pot' that levelled off all individuality, the city rather provided a big stage on which these groups were able to interact with each other or disassociate from each other and, by that, express and develop their own identity. The early Christian group(s) in Rome are no exception here.
The articles, all but two first presented at a seminar during the Second Conference of the European Association for Biblical Studies (EABS) in conjunction with the International Meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) from July 8-12, 2001 in Rome, discuss exemplary aspects of the complex process of interaction and identity formation. The fact that they are written by internationally renowned experts in New Testament studies, Judaic studies, religious studies and archaeology, guarantees a broad perspective and different methodological approaches. The papers are arranged in three sections. The first section gives a general survey about living conditions in early Christian Rome and how minorities like Christians, Jews and Egyptians related to their urban context. The second part specifically focuses on the interaction between majorities and minorities in the early Christian community of Rome on the basis of selected New Testament texts and traditions. The question, how the city of Rome features in New Testament narrative contexts is also discussed. The third and final part follows the development of the post-New Testament Christian community into the second and third centuries. 1 Clem, the Pseudo-Clementine cycle and information about the Valentinians suggest that the variety of positions within the early Christian community to a large extent was also a result of interaction with and adaptation from their cultural context. The articles in their respective way convincingly demonstrate that identity formation always is a dialogue within a given community and with factors outside the own social and intellectual boundaries.
Sex And Salvation: Virginity As A Soteriological Paradigm In Ancient Christianity by Roger Steven Evans (University Press of America) explores the growth and development of virginity in the cultural context of the ancient church. An examination of Greek, Roman, and Jewish literature, which speaks to the issue of virginity, reveals that the Christian understanding of life-long virginity was a foreign concept to the peoples and cultures of the ancient Mediterranean world. In a time when families and authorities demanded that women follow the ancient tradition of marriage and motherhood, a growing number of important Christian authors were calling for a life free from the "dangerous" sexual passions that beset all women.
In Sex and Salvation, author Roger Steven Evans gathers over thirty documents from early Catholic, pseudopigraphical and heterodox letters, epistles, apologies, and canon law that trace the importance of virginity in early Christianity. Evans maintains that the sexual ethic established by early Christian authors has reverberated throughout the intervening centuries, and is still being felt in the post modern world of the 21st century.
In the summer of 2001 as I was doing research on-line for my class on Gender and Sex: Issues in Ancient Christianity, I began to discover a growing number of documents dealing with the issue of virginity. I began to mark these documents, and when the number reached eight, I began to read and analyze them. Themes began to emerge and be repeated. Biblical texts used to support arguments for Christian virginity were quoted over and again. And general views on sex and women's sexuality also were repeated. I decided to highlight these texts in my class, and continued to do research. In the end I discovered over twenty-five catholic gnostic and pseudopigraphical documents dealing specifically with virginity written in the first six centuries C.E. This did not include references to virgins in other various Christian writings, nor early canon law dealing with the subject of virginity.
Most, if not all, of the ethnic and religious, ancient, Mediterranean cultures expected their young women to remain virginal until the wedding night. What makes these documents so fascinating is that these writers were not just telling their young maidens to remain virginal until marriage to their husbands. They were calling for a commitment to life-long virginity, to forgo marriage and children, and to claim Christ as their only husband.
Early Christians were constantly thinking and writing about eternity, i.e., escape from this evil world, salvation from sin, etc. The writers of these documents on virginity were also interested in teleological concerns, and explained to their readers that there were eternal consequences associated with the decision to commit to a life of virginity. And while scholars have explored various early Christian soteriological paradigms, Virginity as a way of salvation, has not to date been identified as one of those paradigms. However the overwhelming plethora of evidence (epistles, letters, apologies, stories, canon
law), irresistible by virtue of its volume, concerning early Christian virginity, both in theology and practice, brought together and analyzed in this book, will cause scholars to reengage the subject of early Christian understandings of salvation.
The belief in virginity as a way of salvation cannot be dismissed as just an-other "work" proscribed by the early church Fathers as a way of earning God's favor. Not only does the practice of virginity give virgins access to God in ways that no other good work does, but virgins, at least by the fourth century, seem to have their own salvific powers. They, in fact, are believed to be saviours; sometimes for their communities, and sometimes for their families. The questions of why this happened when this happened has not yet been thoroughly examined. It is interesting to note, however, that this growing elevation of the powers of virgins coincides with the rise of the status of "ever virgin Mary." It also coincides with the "conversion" to Christianity of hundreds of thousands of people in the Roman Empire; many of whom may have had female saviours in their pantheon of gods.
It is hoped, then, that this book will cause other scholars and students of history to recognize the interest in human sexuality that often occupied the interests of many of the early Christian leaders, and how it was believed that a persons sexual history could very well either haunt or bless the believer throughout eternity.
Those who wrote about virginity in the ancient Church understood it to be both a gift from God and a gift to God. However, while Ambrose and Jerome lament that virginity is a "gift of few only" and that "all men cannot receive" virginity, it can be suggested that Augustine's words that "we are to choose perpetual continence" was addressed to all Christians. Accepting this "heavenly gift" from God and choosing to offer their virginity back to God as their gift gave virgins access to God in ways that married Christians could not. The married had sacrificed their virginity to another human being, and that decision cost them blessings and assurances which only virgins could enjoy.
The early church Fathers who turned their attention to the issues of virginity believed that virgins and the practice of virginity connected these virgins with God in intimate ways that other Christians could only hope for. Only virgins were both the brides and mothers of Christ. Virgins were never out of the presence of Christ, both in this world and the next. They were His constant companions, and followed Him wherever He went. Also virginity was seen as more pleasing to God than any other devotion that could be offered, and be-cause it was more pleasing, it brought greater rewards from God. Virgins were portrayed as being no longer just part of the corporeal world, but part of the "other" world as well. They were either angels or angelic. And just as all of God's angels are holy, so were the virgins. Their holiness is even compared to the holiness that is possessed by God. Therefore, virgins are different from their fellow Christians, and the difference is not just an apparent difference, it is an essential difference in their existence. It is an existence that married Christians cannot share.
What we have in these documents on virginity is a predisposition against not just Christian marriage, but the institution of marriage itself. It would be difficult to argue that married Christians in the first five to six centuries were more lustful or profligate than the general population. It is more likely that they were not. Therefore, we can assume that, for these Fathers, any marriage (other than "spiritual marriages") was a sign of weakness and divided loyal-ties at best; loss and abandonment of one's call from God at worst. It is rare in the early post-apostolic age (late first—early second century) to find a catholic author praising an institution (marriage) that was the very foundation of all past and contemporary cultures. These men, either intentionally or unintentionally, were re-creating society; a society that would be void of many standards of familial responsibilities and sensitivities. This was an extreme culture which very few could understand. Fewer still could identify the motivation for this sexless society, and fewer still were motivated enough to accept the challenge of living a virginal life. Expressing care for your husband (or wife) and children was a signal, not that you cared more for them than for the things of God, but that you cared nothing for the things of God. If you cared for the things of God you expressed that by not becoming entangled with intimate relationships in this life. Christ was your Bridegroom and heaven was "better than sons and daughters."
Married Christians were not denied the blessings of the Kingdom of God, but in the "hierarchical heaven" created by these men, the best that married Christians could hope for was entrance into the Kingdom. God, and the rest of the inhabitants of Heaven—Divine, angelic, and human—knew that God and Christ held virgins and celibate widows in far greater esteem than faithful married Christians. They were "third class" citizens, forever, in the eternal world to which they were hoping.
Based on the evidence it is safe to say that the understandings of early Christian soteriology needs to be broadened. The merits of Christ's sacrifice were not the only merits available to the believers. And while the merits of the martyrs enjoyed early popularity, the merits of virgins, which third, fourth, and fifth century Christians began to honor, has not yet been considered by modem scholars.
Salvation by grace through faith and not by works, presented by Paul (Eph 2.8), by the late first century was one of a variety of ways in which Christians might be saved. The importance of good works came to take an important and readily accepted role in the language of salvation. Salvation was no longer only an act by God through Christ, but a process. In this process the believer, having faith in God's saving power, and trusting in God's grace, performs good works, further earning God's favor. However, the evidence makes it abundantly clear that virginity was not just another good work. Its increasing elevation in the writings of the early church Fathers, its connection with the divine, its participation in what now can be recognized as a soteriological scheme, and the promises of exceedingly greater gifts from God, demonstrate that virginity was not just a good work, but rather a way of salvation standing on its own. It can be suggested that very few early Christian believers, other than perhaps some Pelagians, believed that good works, on their own, could earn salvation. However, more than one early Christian Father author either implicitly suggested, or explicitly stated that taking the vow of virginity, and remaining true to that vow, both physically and spiritually, was enough to ensure one's salvation.
It is stated that virgins, because of their virginity, can offer to their fellow believers blessings which only they (the virgins) can offer. It may be too early to suggest that the virgins are, in some sense, saviours. However, as this language continued to be heard it becomes more and more difficult to avoid the conclusion that virgins are not just passively saved, but are also actively engaged in the act of salvation for the Christian community. By the sixth century, some writers are saying that virgins have access to God in ways that al-lows them to intercede, salvifically, on behalf of others.
In light of this elevation of virginity to divine heights, it is understandable why a loss of virginity, especially a voluntary abandonment seemed to be the most abhorrent of all sins. It is obvious that devoting one's life to virginity in the early church was a high stakes challenge, fraught with eternal consequences. The ultimate end of those who took virgin vows was the very heights of heaven, but if renounced the very deepest pits of hell. Virgins were portrayed as no longer being part of this world, and they enjoyed a closeness with God that the rest of the Christian communities could only imagine. And it is primarily for this reason that fallen virgins were subject to some of the harshest language and deepest animosity from the church Fathers. They pulled out their full repertoire to voice both their own and God's displeasure.
The Gospel Of Mary: Beyond A Gnostic And A Biblical Mary Magdalene by Esther A. De Boer (Journal for the Study of the New Testament Supplement Series: T. & T. Clark Publishers) Two basic viewpoints are usually distinguished in recent scholarly work on the Biblical and Gnostic Mary Magdalene: (1) Gnostic authors have constructed a Gnostic Mary Magdalene using the biblical portrait of her as a vehicle for Gnostic teaching, and, (2) biblical authors neglected the important role of Mary Magdalene, of which Gnostic authors preserved evidence. In addition, on the one hand the Gnostic Mary Magdalene is valued as a female apostolic leader, as an advocate of women and of egalitarian discipleship, and as a revealer of Gnostic insights. On the other hand, scholars point to the specific dualism, and the subsequently negative female imagery in Gnostic writings, and reject a positive evaluation of the Gnostic Mary Magdalene.
To be able to evaluate these different viewpoints on the Gnostic Mary Magdalene, the present study focuses on the Gospel of Mary, which is considered to be the most important early witness to the esteem of Mary Magdalene in Gnostic circles. Boer investigates the following aspects:
By addressing these questions Boer contributes to the present debate about the Gnostic Mary Magdalene. The study begins with an introduction to the Gospel of Mary. It goes into its three incomplete manuscripts of the Gospel of Mary, the provenance of the original document, its date and composition, the persons in the story and the identification of Mary as Mary Magdalene. The chapter also provides a new translation of the nine pages from the Coptic manuscript, followed by a study of the meaning of the Gospel of Mary, and of the definition of the term `Gnostic'.
Next Boer examines the purpose of and the dualism in the Gospel of Mary and the question whether it is to be seen as a Gnostic document. Boer focuses on the author's portrayal of Mary Magdalene in the Gospel of Mary. What is her relation to the Saviour, what is her position among the disciples and what is her function in the story? The author speaks from the viewpoint of Peter, of Andrew, of Levi, of the Savior, and of Mary herself. Through the interaction of these views, through the extra knowledge and view of the narrator and dialogic structure, through Mary's teaching and through certain indications in the text, Boer examines the development of the plot in which the author's view of Mary Magdalene becomes apparent.
To be able to investigate the origin of the portrayal of Mary Magdalene in the Gospel of Mary an examination of the New Testament Gospels is elaborated, since they contain the earliest written material on Mary Magdalene. First Boer studies the portrayal of Mary Magdalene in the Gospel of Mark. Almost at the end of the Gospel, Mark for the first time declares that a considerable number of women had been following Jesus. What to think of these women? What is their function in Mark's story? And what about Mary Magdalene in their midst? In order to fully consider these questions Boer not only focuses on Mark, but also on the historical situation at the time of the Gospel witness and communities Boer also investigates the Gospels of Matthew and Luke and the Gospel of John, considering their view of women and Mary Magdalene in particular as well as possible historical contexts.
Boer wraps up with an evaluation of the portrayals of Mary Magdalene in the Gospel of Mary and the New Testament Gospels, reflecting on the substantive questions enumerated above.
Women In Early Christianity: Translations From Greek Texts edited by Patricia Cox Miller (Catholic University of America Press) From the fictional Thecla in the second century to the very real Olympias in the early fifth century, the history of women in early Christianity was as varied as the religion itself. Even though, as one scholar has remarked, "the presence of women is almost always perceived indirectly, nonetheless to investigate the history of early Christian women is to immerse oneself in the tangle of competing theologies and religious convictions that characterized Christianity as it developed during its first five centuries. Contemporary historians do not have much direct access to women's own perspectives oil their lives and roles as Christians be-cause so few documents written by women have been preserved. However, there are many kinds of texts that can be used both to reconstruct the history of actual women in Christianity as well as to analyze the ideologies of gender that affected how women were perceived in social and religious terms in Graeco-Roman culture.
The ancient materials that concern women in Christianity focus on several, often interlocking, issues: heresy and orthodoxy in both thought and practice, martyrdom, asceticism and virginity, domestic functions concerning family and household, leadership roles in the church, and female theological imagery. In other words, when ancient Christian men write about Women, they seem to be most interested (whether negatively or positively) in women's roles as teachers, prophets, martyrs, widows, deaconesses, ascetics, virgins, patrons, wives, mothers and sisters, and metaphors.
This volume is composed of texts written in Greek in Christian communities around the Mediterranean basin and dated from the second century through the sixth. Most of these texts were written by nun, although a few are anonymous. Among the unattributed materials are selections from the Apocryphal Acts, which deserve special mention here. Several contemporary scholars have argued that these stories about such fictional heroines as Xanthippe, Polyxena, and Maximilla were tales told by and for women and may also have been written by women. Otherwise, unlike the Latin tradition little exists in Greek patristic literature by women authors.
There are three broad categories of material relevant to the study of women in early Christianity: official documentary sources; popular narrative and poetic sources; and theological sources. Each of these categories is represented here, and each yields its own distinctive perspective on both actual women and the socio-theological construction of "woman." Although distinctive in terms of the kinds of texts they include, these categories are not mutually exclusive insofar as they share a concern to locate women theologically (for example, by defining woman's nature in terms of the biblical Eve) and socially (for example, by defining women's ecclesiastical roles in terms of gendered understandings of public and private space drawn from Graeco-Roman culture).
The first category of material noted above is composed of documentary sources such as canons of ecclesiastical councils, represented in this volume by the Council of Gangra, and church orders like the Apostolic Constitutions. These are prescriptive texts that regulate what women can and cannot do in official positions (for example, as deaconesses and widows) and in matters of religious practice (for example, whether transvestism —dressing in male clothing—is permissible). As the least "literary" of the sources assembled here, and so less marked by rhetorical embellishment and bias, these texts provide valuable resources for knowledge about women's leadership roles in the church.
Unlike the texts in the first category, those in the next two categories are literary representations rather than transparent windows through which to view history -as it really was." As Elizabeth Clark has noted, in dealing with such highly interpretive texts scholars have moved "beyond the stage ... in which we retrieve another forgotten woman and throw her into the historical mix" and now examine instead "how women and gender are constructed in these texts" as well as "the social forces at work in these constructions" (and, one may add, the theological forces also). As indicated in what follows, one important result of such examinations shows the importance of the female boy—whether it be that of a virgin, harlot, martyr, mother, or saint—for symbolizing religious identity and values in early Christianity.
The second category includes more popular narrative and poetic literature such as apocryphal acts, martyrologies, hagiographies, hymns, and homilies. Such texts tend to he celebratory accounts of heroines who, whether fictional or historical, are presented as rebelling against conventional political and social norms of Graeco-Roman society in or-der to he faithful to their profession of Christianity and their understanding of their roles within it." Martyrs such as Valentina and Ennatha, for example, defied the political authority of the Roman Empire by refusing to engage in ritual religious practices regarded as crucial to civic welfare. In similar fashion, fictional heroines like Maximilla are portrayed as defying cultural expectations about women's role in the family, the basic social unit in Graeco-Roman society, by adopting an ascetic lifestyle within marriage. This pattern would later be adopted by historical women like Melania the lounger, whose biography is included in this volume. The impact of this popular literature cannot be underestimated; as Averil Cameron has observed, these were "stories people want."'
The third category comprises formal theological works that expound their authors' ideal or normative constructions of womanhood. Some-times these carry a positive valence, as in treatises on virginity that hold out the promise of an "angelic life" and in funeral orations that praise their subjects' virtues. However, they can also be negatively charged, as in heresiological works that reveal the "orthodox" ideal by exposing its "heretical" opposite. As Virginia Burrus has observed, the figure of the virgin, "closely linked with the construction of orthodoxy, is frequently contrasted with the figure of the heretical harlot, in language that seeks to delineate the boundaries of acceptable theological reflection while also creating a sharp distinction between `insiders' and 'outsiders.'" In-deed, theological ideas about sinfulness and salvation are often paramount in such texts, and they are closely linked with women's sexual behavior. Especially in the treatises on virginity, women's literally chaste bodies are presented as metaphors of the pure "brides of Christ" that all Christians strive to become. Overall, texts in this category develop models of the ideal woman, whether as mentor to husbands and children or as paradigms of the spiritual life.
This collection is organized topically into five major sections: "Women's Roles in the Church," "NV omen and Virginity," "Portraits of Ascetic Women," "Women and Domestic Life," and "Female Imagery and Theology." All of these sections contain material from at least two of the categories discussed above, and each aims to be as comprehensive as possible in its presentation of women in early Christian thought. Further-more, the topic of each section demonstrates in a variety of ways how "the question of woman" generated theological controversy, provoked examinations of ecclesiastical hierarchy, prompted the development of new understandings of religious identity and comportment, and provided a novel set of metaphors for expressing Christian values and ideas.
Many of these issues regarding the position of women in Christianity were already present, although not extensively developed, in the earliest Christian writings collected in the New Testament. I unfortunately for interpreters who wanted to use these texts as authoritative guidelines to settle controversial issues, the New Testament itself reflects different perspectives on the roles of women, and its texts can hear a variety of interpretations. As the major topics mid themes are introduced in the following pages, some of the most important Scriptural passages will be noted.
Possession & Exorcism in the New Testament & Early Christianity by Eric
(Wissunt Zum Neuen Testament, 157: J C B Mohr Verlag) The present study argues
for the adaptation of exorcism in early Christian mission to the cultural
sensibilities of the non-Christian Greeks and Romans. The subject arises when
noting that exorcism was an unconventional activity in Greco-Roman society
during Christianity's early centuries. Despite this, by the middle of the third
century of the Common Era, as we learn from a letter of Cornelius, Bishop of
Rome, to Fabius, Bishop of Antioch, the church of Rome had "fifty-two exorcists,
readers and doorkeepers" on its roster of 154 clergy. This letter raises the
question of how a phenomenon held at the periphery of conventional healing
activity not only survived in the early church, but apparently flourished to
make the transition from superstition to institution in the Greco-Roman world.
Within the context of the Christian scriptural background the logic behind exorcism's eventual institutionalization is understandable.' Jesus' own exorcistic activity as presented in the synoptic gospels, and his command to his disciples to do the same, grant to exorcism a place of consequence in early Christian tradition.' But it also makes it a subject with which the church would eventually have to come to terms in its missionary appeal to Greek and Roman audiences. The continuation of exorcism in the westward expansion of early Christianity is noteworthy because it appears to have survived in an environment that relegated its demonology and the human powers involved with it to a magical or an occult status rather than a cultic one. In Greece the charge of magic is brought against neither medical practitioners nor the activities of the Asclepius healing cult. On the one hand, doctors rarely claim to do the extraordinary, but follow instead a naturalistic therapy of diagnoses and prognoses based upon observed precedent. Even should they solicit divine powers in this process the method remains essentially unchanged. On the other hand, although the Asclepius cult claims to do the miraculous, it operates within a healing tradition whose authority is recognized by the state. The accusation of magic, then, rests not upon extraordinary activity per se, but ultimately upon the authority from which that activity is perceived to derive. This is echoed in the Palestinian setting for the synoptic portrayals of Jesus, where critics question Jesus' authority to heal, not his ability to do so.
the demarcation between magic and socially accepted religious practices in
antiquity is a fluid one, and depends more upon the perspective of the one who
distinguishes between the two than on any intrinsic qualities they may have
held, but it is just this subjective criterion of perception that is of
relevance for the present study. The fact that some Greeks and Romans in
positions of political power and cultural influence associated Christianity with
magic and superstition was a perception that early Christian missionaries would
have to have taken into account.
foreignness of the Jewish and Christian practices of exorcism to the Greco-Roman
world becomes readily apparent in the context of healing. The synoptic gospels
and Acts portray exorcism either explicitly as a healing activity (Matthew, Luke
and Acts), or as a closely related event (Mark). In contrast, the practice of
exorcism and demonic possession as an illness are noticeably absent from
conventional Greek healing traditions until the turn of the era, and as a
consequence exorcism does not play a role in medicine or the healing cults. The
Hippocratic Corpus and the writings of noted medical practitioners as late as
Galen (ca. 129-199) are unconcerned with the phenomena of demonic possession and
exorcism or, where discussed, treat them polemically." Prior to the turn of the
era, even the religious healings attributed to the god Asclepius appear to deal
neither with possession as a malady from which their patients suffer nor for
which they seek a cure.
locus of Greek medicine in the Asclepieia, both medical and religious healing
offered culturally sanctioned alternatives to magical practices, and they
likewise would have benefited from magic's discreditation. On the one hand, this
explains the absence of such references in earlier Greek literature, though the
presence of exorcism in early magical contexts, too, is by and large wanting. On
the other hand, the apparent irrelevance of possession and exorcism to
culturally sanctioned healing, and the lack of evidence for it even in magic,
raises the question of how exorcism was to prove effective as a missionary
activity if no apparent demand for exorcism existed in Greek society prior to
the Common Era.
contexts as well exorcism remains a field untrodden, and is undocumented in
Roman society until late in the first century Common Era. Then, Josephus (37-ca.
100), writing in Greek to a Roman audience, mentions Eleazar having exorcized a
demon before Vespasian. In his account Josephus mentions both the technique and
proof of that exorcism, as well as the pedigree of the practice in general,
which he claims to stem from Solomon. It would appear to be something of a
novelty to his readers. From the second century onward exorcists become
occasional subjects of Greco-Roman literature in genres as diverse from
Josephus' historiography as the jurisprudence of Ulpian (f. 212-217), who
distinguishes exorcism from proper medicine;' the philosophy of Marcus Aurelius
(121-180), who treats the exorcist with disdain; the satire of Lucian (ca.
120-ca. 180), who treats exorcists as fraudulent entrepreneurs in a
superstitious world; and the hagiography of Philostratus (ca. 170-ca. 245), who
shows the first century wise man Apollonius of Tyana to perform his miracles
under a cloud of suspicion and misunderstanding by the Roman authorities.
not without reason, leaves an exotic impression upon these literati, an
"easternness" which they tend to interpret as "foreignness." Thus, Vespasian
encounters a Jew adept in a craft excelled in by Jews. For Lucian, a connection
with the east is a near prerequisite for exorcistic conjuration. He notes Egypt
for its familiarity with magic in general, and in particular he mentions a
contemporary Syrian exorcist famous for his work in Palestine, a "Chaldean" from
Babylonia who successfully casts spells and incantations, and an Arab who
possesses a ring used to control demons .25 Philostratus mentions that
Apollonius received an education in eastern wisdom, which in part translated
into his ability to discern and control spirits.
critical assessments of the exorcist and his craft nevertheless record their
underlying popular fascination and appeal. The story of Lucian's Arab itself
attests to this interest in conjuration and its conveyance to Greece from the
east. Accordingly, the Arab gives the ring to Eucrates, a Greek, and teaches him
along with it "the spell of many names"; it is precisely the type of practice
ridiculed by the critics. The Arab's ring and spell converge with the magical
papyri, amulets, and curse tablets that have survived from the early Common Era
as a growing corpus of firsthand evidence of conjuration's popularity at this
time. These sources, however, essentially confirm exorcism's place in the eddies
of the cultural mainstream.
pagan authors offer their criticisms of the exorcist, Justin Martyr (ca.
100-165) and Tertullian (ca. 160-240) appeal to exorcism in their defenses of
Christianity. The references to exorcism made by the apologists differ from the
contemporary magical evidence in that they are directed publicly toward the
civil authorities, some of whom have maligned the practice in their own
writings. Throughout their apologies both Justin and Tertullian join with their
audiences in condemning magic. In order simultaneously to uphold the legitimacy
of exorcism the apologists redefine Christianity for their Roman audience as an
authentic religion. Having once established the legitimacy of their faith the
apologists can then rehabilitate exorcism's reputation insofar as it is
practiced within that faith. With Christian exorcism thus liberated from the
realm of magical deception, the apologists can appeal to it as a practice that
exposes the falsity of other religions while at the same time substantiates its
own: by drawing their authority to perform exorcisms from the Christian godhead,
Christian exorcists are able to control the so-called gods of pagan belief.
It is in
the area of Christian mission, where Christian values confront nonChristian
sensibilities, that one would expect the practice of exorcism to undergo the
greatest adaptation. Yet, at face value the exorcisms referred to by the
apologists appear consistent with the exorcisms of the synoptic tradition. The
most marked departure from the synoptic precedent occurs not in the exteriority
of mission, but within the confines of the church itself. The differences in
form and meaning of exorcism within Christianity are highlighted when we look
several centuries after the evangelists to an early example of a Christian
liturgical exorcism. In the Apostolic Tradition, attributed to Hippolytus (ca.
170-ca. 236), but perhaps a composite work that in its extant form dates to the
early fourth century, the author describes exorcism's place in connection with
Christian initiation. In the Apostolic Tradition "exorcist" does not refer to a
clerical rank, as it does in Cornelius' Rome. It is, however, a clerical
activity, performed during the baptismal ceremony by a bishop and presbyter with
the assistance of a deacon. In this context those catechumens who are set apart
for baptism undergo repeated exorcisms throughout their period of instruction,
and receive a final exorcism in the baptismal ceremony itself.
of exorcism in the Apostolic Tradition differs markedly from the portrayals of
exorcism in the New Testament. Contrary to the predominantly verbal method of
exorcising demons in the New Testament, such as by rebuke and command, the
baptismal ceremony of the Apostolic Tradition uses an "oil of exorcism" (oleum
exorcismi), and the placement of the cleric's hand upon the head of the
catechumen (manum imponens super eum). When words are used they form a command
for the catechumen to renounce Satan. This renunciation also shows how the
character of the person possessed differs from the New Testament example: the
tangible rituals of oil and touch are applied to one who makes a conscious
decision to be relieved of demonic forces compared to the New Testament's
passive victims of demonic aggression.
for exorcism in the Apostolic Tradition, now part of a private initiation
ceremony, also differs from the New Testament. By its repetition during the
period of catechesis, exorcism in the Apostolic Tradition is more similar to
purification rituals than to the exorcisms performed in the New Testament for
the sake of healing and the display of the exorcist's power and authority. The
focus of the ceremony is not upon the priesthood, but upon the catechumen who is
to receive baptism. Thus, the "possessed" rather than the exorcist takes center
stage. The fact that exorcism occurs in catechetical instruction and within the
baptismal ceremony itself shows that it is now no longer reserved for the
unusual and extraordinary otherness of the demonically possessed as one finds
them in the gospels and Acts. Instead, demonic possession and the subsequent
need for the exorcists' services are applicable to the catechumen and, hence, to
virtually all Christians upon their entry into the church. Consequently,
exorcism is not a relic of the New Testament tradition mimicked and preserved in
the early church for tradition's sake, but is a ritual that had a function of
immediate relevance to every member of the Christian community, at least with
regard to their initiation into that community through baptism.
placement of exorcism in the Apostolic Tradition's baptismal ceremony alters the
purpose of exorcism relative to its practice in the New Testament. In the
Apostolic Tradition, demonic possession becomes correlated to the idea of divine
possession, so that exorcism now serves as a prerequisite cleansing of the body
in preparation for its habitation by the Holy Spirit. The two types of
possessing entities, demonic and divine, are not brought together in this way in
the gospel texts. Rather, the gospels leave us with the prospect of a demoniac
swept clean of his demon only to have it return again with others more evil
still. Consequently, this early Roman baptismal rite illustrates one means by
which the activity of exorcism established itself in the church as a
theologically founded activity which employed exorcism of the demonic as a
preliminary step toward invocation of the divine.
Joseph Dolger has done much to explain the changes in early Christianity's
practice of exorcism, including its incorporation into the baptismal ceremony,
and some of his conclusions are worth stating here. Dolger considered exorcism
and baptism to have become entwined by the second century after having
originally operated independently of each other in the earlier Christian
communities." He determined the merger to have resulted from two principal
beliefs. First was Christianity's demonization of foreign pantheons and
cultures, a factor aided by the otherwise morally neutral term "daimon" which
assumed an exclusively negative sense among Jewish and Christian writers. By
associating what was pagan and heretical with demons and the devil, Dolger
derived a cause for exorcizing those catechumens who were coming to Christianity
out of these traditions.
impetus for the merger, related to the first, was the association made between
sin and Satan. This association led Dolger to distinguish between corporal and
ethical possession (leibliche Besessenheit; ethische Besessenheit)' To some
extent, the association of moral weakness with bodily illness contributed toward
the changes of method within Christian exorcism, so that, for example, the use
of oil in exorcism, unattested earlier in the New Testament writings, "healed"
the soul of its sins in analogy with oil's healing effects upon the body. But
the eventual association of exorcism with ethical possession also had a more
profound effect. Dolger considered both corporal possession and its exorcism to
have been a belief and practice of Jesus and his contemporaries that became
increasingly outdated among subsequent generations of Christians." By demonizing
humanity's sinful nature, and by applying exorcism to ethical possession in the
baptismal ceremony, Dolger saw the church to have maintained a theological basis
for the dominical command to exorcize.
work on the development of exorcism within Christianity has been affirmed and
refined by more recent research .48 The focus for Dolger and later researchers,
however, has been upon exorcism as an "intra-mural" activity, that is, as it
takes place within the church and among the converted. What I hope to do in the
following chapters is to explore how exorcism also played a role in the process
of conversion, as Christianity formally introduced itself to the host cultures
of Greece and Rome. In order to argue the relevance of exorcism to Christian
mission, one must make a case for either a change in Greek thought that led to
its accommodation of the exorcist (Near Eastern influences on Greco-Roman
thought and practice), or a change in the practice of exorcism that may have
brought it more into synchronicity with the Greek world-view, or a synthesis of
both. The issues of cultural adaptation will be discussed under five chapter
headings. Chapters 2 and 3 discuss analogous practices from the ancient Near
East that, although initially rejected in the biblical texts, gained a
credibility during the intertestamental period that would add legitimacy to the
portrayals of exorcism in subsequent Judaism and early Christianity. Chapter 4
discusses the Greek cultural background that undermined this legitimacy.
Chapter 5 discusses the various uses of exorcism in the New Testament that would
have facilitated its adaptation in the early centuries of Christian expansion.
Chapter 6 discusses the actual reception of the Christian exorcist as it can be
gathered from the literary sources, to determine where changes may have taken
place either in the Christian practice of exorcism to accommodate the
sensibilities of the audience to be converted, or in the world-view of the
audience that the exorcist hoped to convert. The present study's time frame for
early Christianity extends from the first to the early fourth centuries of the
Common Era. The closing terminus reflects Constantine's favorable recognition of
Christianity, and assumes that the acceptance or tolerance of Christianity that
followed thereafter would have affected the contemporary perceptions of its
traditions, exorcism included.
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