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Alkier, Stefan, u. Hartmut Leppin [Hrsg.]
Juden – Heiden – Christen? Religiöse Inklusionen und Exklusionen im Römischen Kleinasien bis Decius.
Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck 2018. VI, 453 S. = Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament, 400. Lw. EUR 149,00. ISBN 978-3-16-153706-6.
Ancient Mediterranean people were ethnic essentialists. That is, they thought that specific cultural and social characteristics – including attachments to particular gods – ran in the blood. Eth-nicity, cult, ancestral custom and syngeneia functioned as virtual synonyms. The apostle Paul, for one prominent example, thought that Jews were Jews and that pagan ›sinners‹ were pagan ›sinners‹ physei, »by nature« (Gal 2.15; for a lush list of »naturally pagan« sins, Rom 1.18–32). Even once such pagans were »adopted« into the family of Abraham by infusion of divine spirit, they were nevertheless engrafted into the eschatological olive tree para physin, »against nature« (Rom 11.24).
Classical ethnographers agreed. Humanity fell into families, each knit together by kinship (or »blood«), land, language, ancestral custom, and gods. Those who by »blood« stood outside the Graeco-Roman oikoumenē – Celts, Egyptians, Phoenicians, Jews – might share some unfortunate anti-social characteristics (dishonesty, viciousness in war, tendencies toward human sacrifice and/or cannibalism), but each was essentially distinct, and distinctly dif-ferent. Different peoples were as they were because that’s how they were. Identity (whether – by our categories – social or religious or cultural or political) was hardwired, given, fixed. (See esp. on this issue the magisterial study by Benjamin Isaac, The Origins of Racism in Classical Antiquity. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004.)
Yet ancient Mediterranean people were also ethnic (thus, religious) constructivists. Inter-city diplomacy ran on fictions of situationally-generated syngeneia (this is how Spartans and Hasmonean Judeans became »cousins«: Josephus, Ant. 12.4.10 § 226). Heated rhetoric rountinely generated ersatz ethno-religious identities: in this way, gentile Christian Marcionites became Tertullian’s »Jews.« And the less formal texts of inscriptions and papyri contain such a jumble of »identifiers« that any ethno-religious assignment – is this inscription »Jewish«? Is this magical recipe »pagan« or »Chris-tian«? – remains elusive. Ancient identities were notional, indeterminate, fluid.
Both descriptions are true, which leaves historians of Roman an-tiquity in an analytic quandary. By what criteria, applying what cat-egories, can we sort out these ancient people, the better to understand them – especially, once Christianities develop, when »peoplehood« becomes decoupled from pantheon? Stefan Alkier and Hartmut Leppin subtly sum up this historiographical difficulty by introducing the important question mark into their title. Their marvelous an-thology discusses this traditional demographical triad of »Jews,« »pagans« and »Christians« precisely while problematizing it.
On offer between Alkier and Leppin’s editorial introduction (1–17) and conclusion (a »terminological epilogue,« 433–443; I’ll return to these later) is a rich assortment of scholarly investigations, which fall into two categories. The first three, addressing Grundsatzfragen, thoughtfully reflect on conceptual ques-tions of distinction, definition, and differentiation. Tobias Nicklas opens this section by considering the effects of a dominant historiographical metaphor, the »parting of the ways,« on our historical efforts to grapple with ancient Jewish and Christian identities (»Parting of the Ways? Probleme eines Konzepts«: 21–42). Simply thinking in terms of two such clearly distinguished groups betrays the social complexity of the problem (22–25). Nicklas builds to a more complex model that better accommodates the historical record of intricate interactions and mutual influences and antagonisms (»Five Theses,« 25–37). A »dance,« he suggests, rather than the imagined chronological and social punctum of »parting ways,« better suits this kinetically entangled religious demography (»Fazit«: 37–38).
The following two conceptual essays concentrate on ancient social modal-ities for discerning and constructing religious identity: Christian strategies of exclusion (Manuel Vogel, 43–69), and the practice of animal sacrifice (James Rives, 71–88). As Vogel notes, all the fighting was about more than just words (43); but words (especially the late-first/early second-century neologism Christianoi) serve as tracers in a trajectory of differentiation that he draws from New Testament texts through to the emperor Julian (45–57), whence we see the emergence of »Christians« as a genos (esp. 61–64), as a »religion« (thrēskeia), and eventually as an inflection of imperial romanitas (57–58). Circling back to the New Testament texts, Vogel underscores the inappropriateness of »Jewish« and »Christian« as distinct analytic categories for the first century (64); and he concludes on the contestations over the referent of »Israel« and »the people of God« – again, the issue of relations between the ethnos or genos and theos – in the later New Tes-tament writings and in Justin (Dial. 132). By Justin’s period, mid-second century, the ›Volk Gottes‹ or ›Israel‹ (originally kinship terms) is defined by ›faith,‹ not family. And, I note, the criterion of »faith« excludes Christian »insiders« as well as Jewish »outsiders«: Valentinus and Marcion, each of whom believed Christ to be son of God and Savior, would not number among Justin’s construction of »God’s people.«
This last observation brings us to the third of these Grundsatz essays, James Rives’ consideration of »orthopraxy,« »orthodoxy,« and the performance, or avoidance, of animal sacrifice. Traditional Mediterranean cults – including the Jews’ cult (78) – practiced such sacrifice, which could accommodate a great deal of diversity of religious ideation within the basic behavioral uniformity afforded by cultic action: orthopraxy. The refusal to sacrifice, which Rives uses as a functional definition of »Christian,« threw those communities into a denial of religious diversity, a totalizing discourse and worldview, and an emphasis on thought rather than action: orthodoxy. In this latter configuration, thought precedes and governs practice. These two communities, analyzed according to the category »sacrifice,« thus represent »two different models of what we would identify as ›religion‹« (85).
Rives’ formulation works well to distinguish traditional cults from varieties of Christianity; but with this model, Judaism remains something of an outlier (as Rives acknowledges, 85). True, Jews performed sacrifices up to the year 70 CE, but for the most part only in Jerusalem. For centuries before that period in the western Diaspora, and for long centuries thereafter, Diaspora Jews were – conspicuously, according to grumbling pagan observers both Greek (like Apion) and Roman (like Tacitus) – the sole non-sacrificing population in the Greco-Roman city. And the praxis of these non-sacrificing diaspora Jews otherwise remained (and remains) noisily diverse. Where then does Roman-period Judaism belong within Rives’ typologies?
Part II, Fallstudien, 91–432, is a brilliantly diverse, fine-grained, generously annotated series of close studies of various gatherings of inscriptions, papyri, coins and amulets; critical examinations of equally varied texts (Revelations; legal texts culled from Josephus as well as from imperial sources; Acts; Apocryphal Acts; Dialogue with Trypho); and a site-study of the religious ecology of the city of Smyrna in the period between Revelation and Pionius (with attention, as a mid-point, to M. Polycarp). This last essay, by Walter Ameling, tests another heuristic model: was antiquity – or, more specifically, the imperial Roman city – a »marketplace« of religions, or an arena? What happened in cities as gods shifted from being an urban patrimony to being a choice? And how did an identity deliberately constructed as translocal define itself – and get defined by – its host body and community, the city (428)?
These individual – and highly individuated – essays together embody the great virtue of this collection. Their precision and specificity is the book’s great strength. Limitations of space preclude my commenting on each one sepa-rately: all repay reading and rereading. (And their respective bibliographies are an added boon.) Collectively, they provide an excellent springboard into their editors’ methodological and historiographical conclusion, a meditation on the terms by which we do our work. In light of the rich diversity – and elusiveness – of our ancient evidence, how are we helped, how hindered, by reliance on our analytical triad Juden, Christen, Heiden – especially given that the term »pagan« ultimately stems from the anti-majoritarian polemics that Jews and, eventually, Christians aimed at contemporaries (443)? How much of the ambiguity of ancient religious identity lies in us, given our problems of perception and interpretation, which are generated in no small way by our terminology? How much does this perceived ambiguity contrast with the clarity of experience actually lived by the ancient people whom we study (433, with a nice summary of the diversity explored and expressed in the preceding essays)?
Consider, for example, the terms »god-fearer« and »monotheism.« The first is ancient: theosebeis vel sim. appear in our historical texts, both literary and epigraphical. »Monotheism,« on the other hand, was born in 1660 to express the belief that only one god exists. Its antonym was »polytheism,« the belief that many gods exist. Both terms, theosebeis and monotheism, thread throughout this entire book, the first appearing fifteen times (sometimes intertwined with the ancient [pagan? Judaized?] cult to the Highest God, Theos Hypsistos); the second, twenty times (also sometimes entwined with the same cult).
Different essays inflect these words and ideas subtly differently. The God-fearers were voluntary Judaizers, but what did that mean? How much of Jewish practice did they actually assume (cf. Christian Marek, 131)? How many participated in local Jewish feasts, like the one celebrating the translation of the Septuagint (Philo, Life of Moses 2.41-42), and then went home to their own gods? How many – like Julia Severa (the imperial priestess who built a synagogue, IJO II.168) or, for that matter, Augustus (who subvened sacrifices in Jerusalem; Philo, To Gaius 317) – were aristocratic benefactors first of all? Along what continuum of showing respect to a non-native deity did all of these people fall?
Further, interested pagans were already present in the synagogue qua pagans, a point that Rives’ essay does not quite catch. Concentrating on Judeans in Pisidian Antioch’s synagogue, Acts 13.14 (on 72), he fails to mention that God-fearers – sympathetic pagans – are also there as well (Acts 13.16). Luke’s Paul was already preaching to pagans when and by virtue of preaching in diaspora synagogues – as was the case, I think, with the historical Paul as well. (For the full argument, see Fredriksen, Paul. The Pagans’ Apostle. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017, at 49–60 and 145–48.) Precisely for the first century, we perceive only with difficulty the stirrings of that phase-change that will demarcate the growth of what became gentile Christianities.
How, finally, can we usefully attribute anything like »monotheism« to theosebeis when they also continued to worship their own gods (Hartmut Leppin, 371)? Or, for that matter, how can we think of any ancient person, Jew or Christian included, as a »monotheist« if he or she knew perfectly well that gods other than the god of Israel existed (»as indeed, there are many gods and many lords,« Paul notes in 1 Cor 8.5). And if some Christians, such as Valentinus and Marcion and even Justin, directed their piety to a god ›higher‹ than Israel’s god (who was, for Justin, a
I mention these complications to underscore the point made vari-ously throughout this rich and enriching study: even seemingly uncontroversial terms invite confusion, misperception, and anachronism – or, perhaps worse, false clarity. Critical self-consciousness in our use of our terms, acknowledging the elusiveness of clarity in the face of antiquity’s vibrant social and religious divers-ity (»Wie kann man diese Vielfalt fassen?«, 439) is the moral and historiographical exhortation that Alkier and Leppin leave us with (443). An excellent collection to assign advanced students in grad-uate seminars, Juden, Heiden, Christen? will also cause scholars familiar with this ancient terrain to pause and think harder about the terminological maps that we all rely on when plotting our way back into the past.