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Kirchengeschichte: Alte Kirche, Christliche Archäologie


Stroumsa, Guy G.


Barbarian Philosophy. The Religious Rev-olution of Early Christianity.


Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 1999. XII, 345 S. gr.8 = Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament, 112. Lw. DM 178,-. ISBN 3-16-147105-9.


Henry Chadwick

Among the learned professors of the Hebrew University Jerusalem, Guy Stroumsa is well known and highly respected by historians of the ancient Church. His new book, published under the aegis of Martin Hengel, offers 18 chapters on varied topics in early Christian history, 17 of which have already appeared often in recondite places. They are a mine of erudition not only in the primary sources but also in the massive scholarly literature.

He starts with the timeless question: What made the churches particularly intolerant towards the Synagogue? Was it the sideeffect of monotheism? One might expect that to be true in relation to paganism but not to other monotheists. To Celsus (in Origen VIII 72) the notion of a global ethic and a single pattern of worship seemed utopian and wholly unrealistic. To the emperor Constantine the Great and to Eusebius of Caesarea it seemed realisable provided that the Christian emperor was in charge. Belief in only one God is felt to be intolerant when the deity is understood to wish for uniformity in life-style and in cultic acts, much as popes from Stephen I and Inocent I desired other churches to follow Roman liturgical use. However, rivalry between two bodies appealing to the same texts will appear to many to be the most potent factor.

Next follows the hermeneutical revolution of Christian interpretation of the Hebrew scriptures, notably assisted by the Septuagint and Philo's story of its inspired origin; that is to say by learned Jews. Philo, it is noted, shared universalist claims (V. Mosis II 19). From Origen contra Celsum, analysis is offered of the Christian distance from the pagan thesis that authentic religion consists in keeping ancestral customs. It is observed that barbarian invasions helped Christians to identify with the empire and to forget that their culture had once been barbarian. A chapter which some will feel to be hazardous suggests that intolerance was stimulated by the move, common to Judaism and Christianity, to see the essence of faith in personal conviction and feeling. Tertullian on Idolatry is examined; it could be taken to imply that intolerance is rooted less in theology than in human nature. On the movement from anti-Judaism to anti-semitism the good question is asked how far Christians needed to oppose the Synagogue as a matter of self-definition - much as many Protestants are unclear about their beliefs except insofar as they are not Roman Catholic. Polemic strengthens weak insiders.

Ancient society attached high value to dreams and visions. Did visions of the Virgin Mary resemble in form or function pagan visions of their deities, especially as incubation continued much as before? While some Christians regarded dreams as products of the soul's state, one can think of exceptions.

A lively chapter tells the story of Symeon the holy fool of sixth century Edessa. Four chapters analyse gnostic texts: Epiphanes the Carpocratian of Stromateis III, Audians, Mani's rejection of baptism, and the doctrine of two souls ascribed to him probably correctly by Augustine. The final envoy offers a fascinating history of the idea of a heavenly Jerusalem. Altogether a delightful and desirable book.