Hellénisme et Christianisme

Article excerpt

Hellénisme et Christianisme. Edited by Michel Narcy and Eric Rebillard. [Collection "Mythes, Imaginaires, Religions."] Published with the support of the CNRS. (Villeneuve d'Asq: Presses Universitaires du Septentrion. 2004. Pp. 198. euro21 paperback.)

This is a collection of seven valuable studies on the relationship between Christianity and Hellenism in late antiquity. The essays together provide an insightful tapestry of treatment of the central theme. The authors bring fresh historical-critical approaches to old questions, revealing the many-faceted relationship between the traditional Roman cults and culture and Christian faith and the influence of Greek and Roman philosophy on Christian thought and expression. As a critical examination of the essays is not possible in this brief review, a descriptive summary of each must suffice.

Pierre Chuvin, weighing the credibility of selected witnesses to the christianization of the Roman Empire, convincingly argues for a complex process involving the assimilation by the transposition of the meaning of cultic and cultural features of Graeco-Roman civilization rather than by their simple eradication. A significant aspect of this was the reinterpretation of secular history and Graeco-Roman religious culture as having been preparatory to Christianity.

Claire Sotinel addresses the question of the disuse of pagan temples during this period. By careful analysis and the comparison of conflicting literary and archaeological evidence, Sotinel concludes that the temples disappeared from use by desuetude rather than destruction by Christians as suggested by fourth-century writers: a view that has been perpetuated until modern times.

Richard Goulet provides detailed argument in favor of the customary attribution to the pagan philosopher Porphyry of a work entitled Against the Christians, allegedly destroyed by imperial command early in its history. Goulet's argument is directed against the thesis of Pier Franco Beatrice, who maintains that Against the Christians never existed and that Porphyry's anti-Christian attacks were advanced instead in another treatise entitled The Philosophy of the Oracles. …