- The Christian Rejection of Animal Sacrifice by Daniel C. Ullucci
For the historian of religions, few problems are as important as that of the end of animal sacrifices in late antiquity. Daniel Ullucci's ambitious book, based upon his Brown doctoral dissertation, seeks to tackle this problem upfront by dealing with the most important religious trend of the period, Christianity.
In a succession of five chapters, the book deals with the problem of animal sacrifice, its theory and practice in ancient Mediterranean religions, the critique of sacrifices in Greece and in Israel, the Christian positions on animal sacrifice (the longest chapter, dealing chronologically with the main early Christian texts, and which provides a good, although not new, synthesis of the major options), and with the author's new proposal for a better understanding of the Christian rejection of animal sacrifices. The epilogue deals with Julian's attempt to return to a religious practice based upon animal sacrifices.
In focusing on the early Christian attitudes to sacrifice, Ullucci knows full well that he inscribes himself in a long scholarly tradition. The New Testament and patristic texts have been scanned and analyzed many times, from a number of viewpoints. While Ullucci establishes his research upon those studies, he finds them all wanting, for a number of good reasons, arguing that the scholarship on which they are established "underanalyzes and undertheorizes the social reality of Christian authors" (119). Ullucci's main goal, then, is to propose a new model for understanding the Christian rejection of animal sacrifices. For [End Page 142] him, this new model should take a broader, more comparative perspective, and should be based on contemporary sociological approaches. More precisely, Ullucci makes much use of the vocabulary developed by the late French sociologist Pierre Bourdieu, calling the church fathers "Christian cultural producers," and outlining "a context for understanding the social practice of animal sacrifice and the ancient field of cultural production involved in debating the meaning and purpose of sacrifice (and religious action more generally)" (119). Bourdieu, in contradistinction with Michel Foucault, his colleague at the Collège de France, had no particular interest in early Christianity, but as he was a very sharp and inspiring intellectual, one may conceivably learn much by applying his lenses to the study of early Christian texts.
Much is true in what Ullucci writes about earlier attempts to analyze and understand early Christian rejection of animal sacrifice. It is good to read a book about early Christian theological attitudes that insists on not forgetting the social context of this theology. Yet, I must say that his proposal does not seem to shed much new light on the problem itself. If I was not quite convinced by the advantages of Ullucci's "new model," this is not so much because I found his claims of theoretical sophistication helpful only to a degree. My dissatisfaction, rather, is related to the fact that this book does not keep its promise to see the early Christian rejection of sacrifice in comparative context. Yes, the philosophical critique of sacrifice, up to Porphyry, is relevant for the understanding of patristic texts on the same issue. But the total absence of the rabbis in the book under review is striking (nine pages are dedicated to "Judean" [pre-Christian] attitudes to sacrifice). After all, two religions, not one, were born in Palestine in the second half of the first century: Rabbinic Judaism, together with Christianity, stems from the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. Ullucci insists, rightly, upon the fact that religions are as much praxis as theological arguments, and that as praxeis, sacrifices are not endowed with one single "meaning." For the historian, a religion without animal sacrifices is obviously quite different from one in which daily sacrifices take place. Hence, both rabbinic Judaism and early Christianity were born together from Second Temple Judaism, a later stage of the religion of biblical Israel. Both these religions simultaneously, with different theological arguments, gave up on animal sacrifices. Wouldn't it have made eminent sense to refer also to rabbinic...