Hellenistic Religions: An Introduction

Hellenistic Religions: An Introduction

Hellenistic Religions: An Introduction

Hellenistic Religions: An Introduction

Synopsis

Based on primary sources, this volume provides a comprehensive overview of religious institutions, beliefs, and practices in the Graeco-Roman world from the fourth century B.C.E. to the fourth century C.E. Rather than focusing on Hellenistic religions as a backdrop for Christianity, the author composes a well-balanced portrait of the social and conceptual nature of these religions, presenting Christianity as one of the many religious alternatives that existed in that period. Covering hellenistic piety, the mystery cults, and the gnostic traditions, Martin provides an integrated view of Hellenistic religion as a coherent system of religious thought defined by shifting views of fate. He demonstrates the role of religion in two fundamental transformations of the Hellenistic world view--the change from the archaic to the Ptolemaic understanding of the universe and the shift in relative importance of masculine and feminine god-images--and concludes with a discussion of the impact of late Hellenistic religion on Christianity. The only single volume to offer a comprehensive and interpretive framework for Hellenistic religions, this masterful survey is an indispensable resource for history, religion, and classics courses.

Excerpt

When one pursues an education in an area of inquiry, which for one reason or another has caught his fancy, he is presented with an astonishing array of information, along with some irksome problems of understanding, many of which linger long into his career of teaching and scholarship. One longs for some sort of synthetic overview and for modest attempts to answer perennial questions. This book is an attempt to understand as a coherent system of thought the profusion of data usually collated under the rubric "Hellenistic Religion." Its synthetic and systemic treatment of the material, rather than being exhaustive or specialized, will I hope prove useful as an introduction as well as a framework for further study.

This book evolved during a generation of teaching undergraduates at The University of Vermont, and I am indebted to my students for their reactions, suggestions, and insights concerning much of the material that follows. Because of its genesis in an undergraduate context and its intended nonspecialist readership, the selected bibliographies at the ends of the chapters are limited primarily to available English language works, with apologies to my European colleagues. Their important contributions to the study of Hellenistic religions are documented in such comprehensive bibliographies as those of Bruce Metzger on Greco-Roman Mystery Religions in Aufstieg und Niedergang der Römischen Welt (II, 17. 3, Berlin and New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1984), as well as in the continuing specialized . . .

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