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Kirchengeschichte: Alte Kirche, Christliche Archäologie


Geljon, Albert C., and Riemer Roukema [Eds.]


Violence in Ancient Christianity. Victims and Perpetrators.


Leiden u. a.: Brill 2014. 252 S. = Vigiliae Christianae. Supplements, 125. Geb. EUR 104,00. ISBN 978-90-04-27478-5.


Maria E. Doerfler

Religion, violence, and their intersection, including attitudes to­wards violence in different religious communities, are topics that have captured the scholarly imagination in recent years. The up-coming 2015 meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature, for example, features nearly a dozen units or calls for papers explicitly addressing violence, on topics as diverse as »Q and Violence,« »Cooperation, Manipulation, and Violence,« as well as a session dedicated to ex-plor­ing themes in one of the best recent works on this topic, the late Thomas Sizgorich's Violence and Belief in Late Antiquity: Militant Devotion in Christianity and Islam (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008). The reasons for this upsurge are perhaps only too obvious; in the aftermath of 9/11, the public eye in America and Western Europe has been increasingly drawn towards the religious and philosophical dimensions of inter- and intra-national conflicts, a hermeneutic reflected also in public discourses about religion.
The volume at hand is a timely contribution to these conversa-tions, arising as it does from an eponymous 2011 conference sponsored by the Dutch Foundation for Ancient Christian Studies. The list of contributors accordingly draws upon the impressive body of Dutch scholars and those active at universities in the Netherlands. Their contributions cover a great deal of territory, including much of the Roman Empire and ranging from the studies of individual texts, as in the case of Joop van Waarden’s essay on Priscillian of Avila’s Liber ad Damasum, to broadly conceived surveys, like Riemer Roukema’s chapter on the reception of Jesus' teaching on (non-)violence in the first five centuries of the Common Era. That most essays nevertheless converge on the fourth century is perhaps unsurprising, given the pull Constantine and his legacy exercise upon historians’ con-siderations of this topic.
In a review of this length, it is regrettably impossible to do justice to every essay; a smattering of the book’s highlights will have to suffice. It is perhaps telling that most of the contributions deal with Christian violence against the other – whether pagan, Jewish, or from a rival Christian group. This focus reflects at least in part the relative plenitude of the source material: while the »winners« of a conflict, in this case the representatives of Christian orthodoxy, are indeed the ones to write history, they also in the process leave a significant liter-ary trail by which historians of later generations may judge their actions. One exception is Hans C. Teitler’s chapter on »Avenging Ju-lian. Violence against Christians during the Years 361–363,« in which the author seeks to defend the famed pagan emperor against charges of persecuting Christians. City by city, Teitler traces the records for Julian’s engagement with the Empire's Christian and »Hellene« po­pulations, in the process noting the discriminatory – e. g., by the famous and, to Gregory of Nazianzus, infuriating exclusion of Chri s­tians from teaching the classics – but non-violent proceeding against »the Galileans.«
Yet the question of what constitutes »violence« is one of the underlying themes of the volume. Jan N. Bremmer helpfully addresses this topic in the opening chapter (»Religious Violence between Greeks, Romans, Christians and Jews«) by noting the »spectrum of violence« in late antique as well as modern discourse (11). Different contributors have sought to address different aspects of this spectrum, ranging from »fighting words« and deprecating designations, as in the case of Gerard Bartelink’s essay (»Repression von Häretikern und anderen religiösen Gruppierungen im späteren Altertum, in der Sprache widerspiegelt«) to efforts to trace violent actions against other groups. Elizabeth Boddens Hosang’s chapter on Christian violence (or lack thereof) against Jews (»Attraction and Hatred. Relations between Jews and Christians in the Early Church«) locates itself at the intersection of these two kinds of violence. By examining late antique legal and conciliar text, Hosang attempts to press beyond the violent rhetoric of patristic texts into the lived experience of Jews of this era. This makes for an interesting and commendable project, despite the obvious challenges presented by the historical record. In other words, violent rhetoric, the reader intuitively accedes, likely precipitated violent action. The relationship between the two, how-ever, is rarely explicit, even in matters as relatively well-documented as Jewish/Christian relations in late antiquity.
The volume draws attention to one of the ongoing challenges in the ever-expanding field of ancient Christian studies, namely the relative chasm between European and American scholarship. The index reveals a relative paucity of references to scholars who have shaped the conversation surrounding religion and violence in ant-iquity on the other side of the Atlantic. Hal Drake’s writings on violence appear at least at the periphery of a number of essays; Sizgorich’s, whose seminal monograph, less than a decade after its original publication, already ought to be a staple for discussions on this topic, fare considerably worse. This concern is scarcely limited to European publications; indeed, relatively few scholars have ma-naged to consistently and effectively traverse the geographic and methodological boundaries between the so-called old and new worlds. Publications like the one at hand, by presenting quality scholarship to an international audience, are no doubt key in remedying such omissions on both sides. As such, Geljon and Roukema’s volume is to be commended to all parties seriously interested in violence in early Christianity.