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Reviewed by:
  • Heavenly Realms and Earthly Realities in Late Antiquity
  • Roger Beck (bio)
Ráanan S. Boustan and Annette Yoshiko Reed , editors. Heavenly Realms and Earthly Realities in Late Antiquity Cambridge University Press. xiii, 335. $107.95

Where and what is heaven? How does one get there? What's it like? Who qualifies, and how is it staffed? This volume of studies serves up some answers from late antiquity (a 'long' late antiquity from Alexander the Great to the rise of Islam) to these perennial and currently quite popular questions.

The contributions are uniformly of a high standard, and the collection makes enjoyable reading throughout. It had its origin in a graduate workshop at Princeton, followed by a colloquium with papers from both graduate students and invited senior and junior scholars. Both of the editors were graduate students who have since entered the professoriate (Annette Yoshiko Reed at McMaster University).

Wisely, the editors have not brigaded the papers by religion, but the reader should know that, numerically, those on forms of Judaism preponderate, followed by those on forms of Christianity, with those on the remaining religious forms, for which one uses the default term 'paganism,' the fewest. Interestingly, those on paganism dwell mainly on what elite 'pagans,' at least until the fourth century CE, would mostly have disdained - magic in particular. I would have liked to see something on Mithraism, [End Page 230] a widespread solar cult, in which 'a mystery of the descent and return of souls' was institutionalized.

The editors have deployed the fifteen contributions elegantly in three thematic sections. The first ('Between Heaven and Earth') concerns going to and fro between the two realms with subthemes of 'liminality, transgression, and transformation.' Fritz Graf (chapter 1) discusses access across bridges and up ladders in Christian sources late in the period; Katharina Volk (chapter 2) the astrologer's imaginative ascent in the didactic poet Manilius; Annette Yoshiko Reed (chapter 3) the descent of the fallen angels in the Book of the Watchers to fornicate with mortal women and impart illicit knowledge; Gottfried Schimanowski (chapter 4) the hymns of Revelation 4-5 as liturgies 'connecting heaven and earth'; Sarah Iles Johnston (chapter 5) the recycling of the good back to earth ('no rest for the virtuous,' as she puts it), whether as angels or reincarnated humans.

The second section ('Institutionalizing Heaven') looks at 'the structure and contents of heaven,' especially 'the projection of earthly regalia into the imagined realms above.' Martha Himmelfarb (chapter 6) discusses a tendency in Second Temple Judaism to privilege incense as the celestial medium of worship in contrast to blood sacrifice in the earthly Temple. In chapter 7 John Marshall argues that Revelation's wars in heaven reflect the bloody anarchy of the Year of the Four Emperors (69 CE), urgently posing the question 'who's really on the throne'? Kirsti Copeland (chapter 8) shows how in the fourth century the earthly monastery substitutes for the New Jerusalem as the blueprint for heaven. Jan Bremmer (chapter 9) explores the somewhat untypical dream vision in the Passion of Saints Marian and Jacob. The conflation of earthly and heavenly tribunals and Marian's new relationship to his social and ecclesial superior, Bishop Cyprian of Carthage, I found particularly interesting. Adam Becker (chapter 10) discusses the theme of the 'heavenly academy' in the East Syrian tradition of Christian learning. Creation itself is pedagogy: God educates his angels thereby.

The third section ('Tradition and Innovation') explores new meanings generated from old images of heaven by 'deconstruction, fragmentation, and inversion.' Ráanan Boustan (chapter 11) discusses the 'poetics of praise' in the Qumran Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, to this reviewer the strangest and most evocative of the descriptions of heaven in this volume. Christopher Faraone (chapter 12) shows how Apollo, that most Olympian of Greek deities, takes on an underworld persona in an invocation from the late antique magical papyri. Peter Schäfer (chapter 13) explores the peculiar cosmology of Seder Rabbah di-Bereshit in which seven hemisperical heavens are mirrored by seven hemispherical 'earths' or underworlds below. Radcliffe Edmonds III (chapter 14) discusses the role of the moon as the power of physis (nature) and 'genesis' in late antique...


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