Religion & Power: Pagans, Jews, and Christians in the Greek East

Religion & Power: Pagans, Jews, and Christians in the Greek East

Religion & Power: Pagans, Jews, and Christians in the Greek East

Religion & Power: Pagans, Jews, and Christians in the Greek East

Synopsis

This book contributes to the small but growing literature on the interaction between religion and power in antiquity. Edwards focusses on the eastern "Greek" provinces in the first and second centuries A.D.--the period during which Christianity, Judaism, and numerous other religions and cults exploded across the Roman Empire. His purpose is to show how the local elite classes appropriated and manipulated mythic and religious images and practices to establish and consolidate their social, political, and economic power. Edwards considers both archaeological and literary evidence. He examines coins, epigraphs, statuary, building complexes, mosaics, and paintings from across Asia Minor and Syria-Palestine looking for evidence of sponsorship by local elites and the meaning of such sponsorship. On the literary side, Edwards selects one representative figure from each of the three major religio-cultural traditions: the Greek writer, Chariton of Aphrodisias; the Jewish historian, Josephus; and the Christian evangelist, the author of Luke Acts. He illustrates how each writer's use of religion reflects the interaction of local elite groups with the "web of power" that existed in political, cultural, and social spheres of the Roman Empire.

Excerpt

This project was born of my intense interest in having conversations with colleagues in archaeology, classics, ancient history, Jewish studies, and New Testament studies. I was disturbed by the seeming disinclination of New Testament scholars and classicists to examine the bountiful information on epigraphic, sculptural, architectural, and other material remains available in numerous journals and archaeological reports when dealing with literary material from the same period. Such data has a tremendous potential for elaborating the contexts in which literary texts came to fruition. An important part of my intellectual journey occurred when I read Simon Price Rituals and Power. Price's book, along with others that explored the interaction of religious symbols and power, stimulated my investigation into the nature of power and its association with the use of symbols.

But the ancient world is a large arena even when one concentrates on religious and mythic symbols used in the Greek East during the first two centuries of this era. One cannot be completely conversant with all literature associated with paganism, Judaism, and Christianity, much less the material culture associated with each or the methodological contributions of anthropologists, sociologists, deconstructionists, narratologists, and the innumerable "-ists" one could name. I have had to be selective, which undoubtedly will generate some dissatisfaction. For instance, I have not referred extensively to the Mishnah, and a number of pagan and Christian narrative voices are little heard. I can only hope that broad strokes, combined with specific examples, will be illuminating as well as challenge others to delve more deeply into such rich territory. My own interests now extend across strict disciplinary boundaries. I simply can no longer read the New Testament, Josephus, Plutarch, or an ancient romance or view an ancient sculpture, building, or coin without first trying to visualize the social, political, and cultural framework in which it was read or viewed. Indeed, attempts to ignore context rely on an "implied" contextual setting that may have little relation to the realia that exist. Recent . . .

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