From Death to Rebirth: Ritual and Conversion in Antiquity

From Death to Rebirth: Ritual and Conversion in Antiquity

From Death to Rebirth: Ritual and Conversion in Antiquity

From Death to Rebirth: Ritual and Conversion in Antiquity

Excerpt

Every book has a personal history. This book started out in winter 1991 as a history of the catechumenate. The inspiration came from my colleague, Professor Thomas Halton of Catholic University. I had just finished two volumes on early Christian baptism and the catechumenate for a series that he edits, The Message of the Fathers of the Church (Liturgical Press, a Michael Glazier book, vols. 5, 6). He remarked that students of the history, literature, and thought of the early church—a discipline called patristics—needed a documentary history of the catechumenate as it developed in the East and West.

I had hardly left port for the ancient Mediterranean world to start the project before I realized that my real interest was the process of conversion in antiquity, which I suspected was a ritual process for religions other than Christianity. My first task, based on the conviction that modernity and antiquity had light to shed on conversion, was to acquaint myself with modem research on conversion. My next task was to study conversion in postexilic Judaism; it was followed by a study of the Pagan religions of the Greco-Roman world. Only then was I in a position to understand and present conversion in early Christianity.

That was five years ago. Without the help of four institutions and a number of colleagues, I would still be wandering, a new Odysseus, across the dark blue sea of the Mediterranean for another five years. Perhaps I might never have made landfall.

The first institution is the College of William and Mary. I have been privileged to teach for more than two decades in a college whose highest priority is effective, scholarly teaching. To match its insistence that effective undergraduate teaching requires continuing scholarship . . .

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