Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Byzantine Christianity

Academic journal article Anglican and Episcopal History

Byzantine Christianity

Article excerpt

Byzantine Christianity. Edited by Derek Kreuger. A People's History of Christianity, vol. 3. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006, Pp. xix, 252. $35.00.)

This book is a series of essays on the religious experiences and practices of Byzantine Christians. There is a need for a volume like this. There exist a number of traditionally told narrative histories such as those of J. M. Hussey The Orthodox Church in the Byzantine Empire, 1986) and George Ostrogorsky (Hhtory of the Byzantine State, 1952, English edition, 1969). More recent publication such as The Byzantines (edited by Guglielmo Cavallo, 1992, English edition 1997) and the Oxford History of Byzantium, (edited by Cyril Mango, 2002) have explored social classes but not with the same focus on religious practice as this volume. This work will not replace the narrative histories but it will be a useful supplement.

There are difficulties aplenty in producing such a work for Byzantine Christianity. The first of these is defining the subject of the study. The very term Byzantine is a category of western historiography. The city of Byzantium ceased to exist in the fourth century when it was refounded as Constantinople. The people being talked about called themselves "Romans" until the thirteenth century when they began calling themselves "Hellenes."

In his generally helpful introduction, volume editor Derek Krueger addresses this issue by setting the scope of the work as "Byzantine Christianity" and not "Christianity in Byzantium" (8). This allows the authors to range through shared cultures and practices throughout the eastern Mediterranean basin beyond shifting imperial borders or the ecclesiastical boundaries of the Church of Constantinople to figures such as Athanasius and Cyril of Alexandria whose relations with Constantinople were less than cordial but who do provide useful evidence. Krueger limits the focus of the volume to Greek-speaking Christians although he recognizes that "Byzantine Christianity" has its Arabic and Slavic speakers as well. This was a prudent editorial decision that gives a focus that helps the authors tell one part of a larger story well. The time period under discussion goes from the founding of Constantinople (324) to its fall to the Turks in 1453. It would be impossible to write a coherent "people's history" for western European Christianity in the same years; there were too many cultural and religious discontinuities. The religious and cultural continuities within Byzantine Christianity across this period make such a broad time frame possible.

The second difficulty in producing a people's history is the problem of evidence. All the topics that this book is not interested in, such as theology and the lives of the upper classes, are well documented and researched. Writing the story of the people, lay men and women, children and adolescents, and how they practiced their religion requires a creative reading of the written evidence and an engagement with the material culture. It is challenging methodologically and the authors generally serve their readers well. One general exception is that only two of the authors who treat buildings or artifacts give the dimensions of anything. …

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