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Iricinschi, Eduard, u. Holger M. Zellentin [Eds.]
Heresy and Identity in Late Antiquity.
Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2008. VIII, 407 S. gr.8° = Text and Studies in Ancient Judaism, 119. Lw. EUR 79,00. ISBN 978-3-16-149122-1.
This collection of 16 essays, together with an editorial introduction, is the result of a colloquium held in January 2005 at Princeton University; that colloquium was the culmination of a semester-long workshop organised for their fellow students and faculty staff by the editors – at that time both graduate students in the Department of Religion at Princeton – and it provided an opportunity for those who had participated in the workshop to engage with established scholars from elsewhere who were invited as speakers. Thus the contributors include current and recent graduate students alongside leading figures in the field. Earlier colloquia in the series, which was initiated by Prof. Peter Schäfer, resulted in A. H. Becker & A. Y. Reed, eds., The Ways that Never Parted (2003), and Ra’anan Boustan & A. Y. Reed, eds., Heavenly Realms and Earthly Realities in Late Antique Religions (2004); readers familiar with those volumes will find a similar style and pattern here. Further volumes from subsequent colloquia are forthcoming and demonstrate the vitality of the Princeton Department’s graduate programme and of the approach it fosters.
The processes by which religious groups in antiquity acquired a sense of distinct identity have attracted close attention, particularly over the last decade, just as they have with reference to other groups in the present as well as in the past. This broader context of study means that the methods adopted are often those that have been developed within the social sciences, and that presuppose that identity is not primordial or static, but that it is produced or constructed both from within as well as from without. The approach can indeed focus on the actual social dynamics of groups in so far as these can be recovered, but it is also easily applied to literary sources, which may be seen not as describing how things are (or were) but as seeking to shape how things should be, or as creating a mental or symbolic universe which people might ›inhabit‹. When applied to literary texts the methods are those of discourse theory and of sensitivity to their, sometimes hidden, rhetoric. Most of the work in this tradition has been carried out in North America and the United Kingdom, and is located particularly in Departments of Religion or Religious Studies as well as of Classics and of the Study of Late Antiquity, and it is from such settings as these that the contributors come. Indeed, one of the most stimulating aspects of such approaches is that they foster the co-operation of scholars of Late Antiquity, of early Christianity, and of Judaism in the Rabbinic period.
This general characterization is also true of the present volume, although the mention of ›heresy‹ in the title introduces a specific focus on how the identification, naming, and description of what comes to be called ›heresy‹ by its opponents provide a special instance of the internal and external boundary-drawing which is fundamental to the creation of identity. Within this framework ›heresy‹ is not defined by doctrine but as an exercise in internal differentiation that may also invite social and political analysis, and that may sometimes be directed more towards reinforcing the position of ›us‹ than towards defining and rejecting ›them‹. This broader understanding means that alongside Caroline Humfress’s study of ›Late Roman Lawyers on Christian Heresy‹ there is Burton L. Visotzky’s examination of the anti-Gentile polemic in yBer. 9.1, John Gager’s short note arguing that Luke’s ›Anti-Judaism‹ is really directed against other Jesus-believers, and William E. Arnal’s attempt to understand the hostility experienced by Paul and his churches in terms of the subversion of order inherent in the claim that Gentile believers were participators in Jewish identity. Like these, most of the papers address particular authors or texts, including also the Gospel of Philip (E. Iricinschi), the Pseudo-Clementine Homilies (A. Y. Reed), Revelation and Ignatius (E. Pagels), Ps. Justin, Quaestiones (Y. Papadoyannakis), and bShabb. (G. Gardner and H. M. Zellentin). In some of these polemic is overt, in others it is only a nuanced reading that will detect, for example, a Christian presence behind bShabb. 116a–b (Zellentin) or behind the development of the Jewish prayer book (I. Y. Yuval). More historical questions include P. Townsend’s argument that the name ›Christianoi‹ was a Roman interpretation of the Pauline/Gentile Christian self-identification as ›those of Christ‹, and K. L. Otserloh’s wide-ranging analysis of the function of ›hellenisation‹ in Judaea. The former illustrates the dynamic interaction between insider and outsider perceptions, a theme that is more richly developed by R. Lim’s study of the uses of and debates surrounding the label ›Manichaean‹ in late antiquity. The theoretical focus is also developed by Karen King who uses a comparison of Irenaeus and the Nag Hammadi Apocryphon of John as a test-case in exploring the social and theological implications of the language of heresy, while Averil Cameron, in a provocative essay, exposes the violence that is inherent in the absolute truth-claims that lie at heart of the discourse of heresy and so of orthodoxy. This essay, at least, could be important reading for those whose interests are theological even if not specifically tied to the period of the early church.
This overview illustrates the wide range of period, literature, approach and questions that is both the strength and the weakness of the volume. Although the editors provide a useful introduction, including both a brief history of scholarship and a summary of the various contributions, their concluding comment that the contributors ›engaged the above questions, found themselves in disagreement with some positions, refined others, and opened new views on identity and heresy in Late Antiquity‹ (27) is indeed an apt description. For the most part the essays are applications of a prevailing method, with varying degrees of success and precision, but other than a restatement of the principles of that method they do not substantially take us forward to something new. Moreover, there is little if any interaction between them despite their origin in an interactive process. Although the volume has a general structure of theory followed by specific studies, readers will be most likely to select those essays that address topics of prior interest; those unfamiliar with the methods, questions, or the particular texts discussed, will often find the going hard – this is not an introduction to the approach nor does it seek to demonstrate the overall difference achieved in how we might see things. Perhaps an inevitable consequence of the premises is that there can be no stable different picture, but rather shifting possibilities and new questions. Since a third volume from the series is to be published by Mohr Siebeck (G. Gardner & K. L. Osterloh, eds., Antiquity in Antiquity) might we hope at some stage for a dialogue between some of those represented here and those who come from a very different, German-speaking, tradition of reading and analysing texts in their theological, social, and historical context? – Generally the book has been edited well although there are some lapses of clarity or of grammar. There are indexes of modern authors and of subjects but, disappointingly, not of ancient sources.