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Religion and the Self in Antiquity

Edited by David Brakke, Michael Satlow, and Steven Weitzman

Publication Year: 2005

Many recent studies have argued that the self is a modern invention, a concept developed in the last three centuries. Religion and the Self in Antiquity challenges that idea by presenting a series of studies that explore the origins, formation, and limits of the self within the religions of the ancient Mediterranean world. Drawing on recent work on the body, gender, sexuality, the anthropology of the senses, and power, contributors make a strong case that the history of the self does indeed begin in antiquity, developing as Western religion itself developed.

Published by: Indiana University Press


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii

This book grew out of a conference on ‘‘The Religious Self in Antiquity’’ held at the Bloomington campus of Indiana University in September 2003. The conference received financial support from the President’s Arts and Humanities Initiative, established by President Myles Brand, and from the Robert A. and Sandra S. Borns Jewish Studies Program, then directed by Alvin Rosenfeld. Richard Miller, the chair ...

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pp. 1-12

What is the self and where does it come from? How one answers these questions depends on who is doing the asking. Psychologists trace the self ’s formation back to instinctual urges, unconscious conflicts, or biological interactions. Philosophers cast the self ’s emergence as a process of intellectual development, culminating in the emergence of the modern autonomous self, whose identification ...

Part I: Seeking Religious Selves

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pp. 13-14

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1. Shifting Selves in Late Antiquity

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pp. 15-39

Although Plotinus had struggled with this poignant question for many years—and indeed, had found an answer to it—he was still, at the end of his life, trying to articulate a vision of an authentic self, free from the emotional entanglements of the embodied human being, entanglements that distracted the self from its genuine powers of self-discernment.2 This worry ...

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2. The Search for the Elusive Self in Texts of the Hebrew Bible

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pp. 40-50

Four decades ago, in a discussion of Jeremiah’s confessions, John Bright stated: ‘‘Although it is true that other prophets frequently speak in the first person and tell of their experiences, there is no real parallel to these little self-revelations in which Jeremiah lays bare before us his most intimate feelings.’’1 Bright’s assertion, not uncommon for its time, presupposes our ability as scholars to access ...

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3. Paul and the Slave Self

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pp. 51-69

Several essays in this volume reflect on the accessibility of the ‘‘self ’’ in ancient religious sources by introducing the notion of voice. Saul Olyan, for example, examines Second Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel as case studies to argue against the ‘‘recovery’’ of an ancient religious self—the motivations and personal intentions of a Hebrew prophet’s ‘‘inner life’’—by simply collecting passages together ...

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4. Prayer of the Queen: Esther's Religious Self in the Septuagint

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pp. 70-90

The prayer of Queen Esther in the Septuagint version of the book of Esther provides a telling site for investigation of the concept of the religious self in antiquity. This well-crafted prayer is clearly a secondary composition by a Hellenistic Jewish author, probably living in Palestine sometime in the late second or first century b.c.e. After carefully considering the sparer version of ...

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5. Giving for a Return: Jewish Votive Offerings in Late Antiquity

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pp. 91-108

When the otherwise unknown Maximos made a donation to the synagogue in Hammath Tiberias in the fourth or fifth century c.e., he—like many other Jews who made such gifts throughout the circum-Mediterranean—commemorated it with an inscription. Like a significant minority of such Jews, he noted that his contribution was made ‘‘in fulfillment of a vow.’’ In fact, the tabular mosaic that ...

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6. The Self in Artemidorus' Interpretation of Dreams

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pp. 109-120

Those looking for an ancient Greek religious self find a few obstacles in the way. Taking a cue from the French philosopher of hermeneutics Paul Ricoeur and his observations in Soi-même comme un autre, we might begin by pointing out that Greek uses a single word, autos, to mark both the ideas of ‘‘same’’ and ‘‘self.’’ Latin, like English, splits autos into two pieces: the pair idem and ipse ...

Part II: Sensing Religious Selves

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pp. 121-122

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7. Sensory Reform in Deuteronomy

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pp. 134123-139

In the sixth century b.c.e., some in the ancient world became aware that their senses were not revealing the whole truth. ‘‘Bad witness are the eyes and ears for men,’’ declared the pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus, apparently meaning to impugn sensory experience as a way of knowing reality (ca. 540–480 b.c.e.). While disagreeing with him about the nature of that reality, Parmenides (ca. 515 ...

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8. Locating the Sensing Body: Perception and Religious Identity in Late Antiquity

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pp. 140-162

Around the year 155 c.e., the elderly bishop Polycarp was martyred in the city of Smyrna (now Izmir on the southwestern coast of Turkey) on charges of refusal to sacrifice to the Roman gods. Christian witnesses to Polycarp’s execution wrote a letter reporting the event to their neighboring church in the city of Philomelium in Phrygia. The letter described Polycarp’s arrest, trial, and execution ...

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9. Dialogue and Deliberation: The Sensory Self in the Hymns of Romanos the Melodist

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pp. 163-180

The quest for a Christian self might typically begin and end in the realm of biographical works. Jesus of the gospels provided a paradigm that would be refracted through martyrs’ accounts, legends of the apostles, and, eventually, saints’ lives, including those of ascetics.1 Beyond biography, however, there was another apparatus by which to construct a Christian self: the retelling of stories ...

Part III: Teaching Religious Selves

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pp. 181-182

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10. From Master of Wisdom to Spiritual Master in Late Antiquity

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pp. 183-196

In his last set of lectures at the Coll

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11. The Beastly Body in Rabbinic Self-Formation

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pp. 197-221

We may not have access to late ancient rabbinic selves, but we do have many sources for studying how they would have been made. Rabbinic texts have numerous accounts characterizing human beings, and specifically men: the nature and significance of the body, the dynamics of the emotions and desires, the features of the breath or soul that inspires life. These representations of the ...

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12. Making Public the Monastic Life: Reading the Self in Evagrius Ponticus' Talking Back

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pp. 222-233

In his unfinished genealogy of the subject, Michel Foucault identified exomologosis, the public acknowledgment of oneself as a sinner, and exagoreusis, the verbalization of one’s thoughts and desires to a spiritual master, as two distinctively early Christian contributions to the development of the self. ‘‘Throughout Christianity,’’ he wrote, ‘‘there is a correlation between disclosure ...

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13. The Student Self in Late Antiquity

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pp. 234-252

Each of these passages describes the religious experiences of Christian students who were studying at a major intellectual center in the later Roman Empire. As such, they provide an interesting and somewhat unique look into late Roman classrooms. But the specific language used in these passages reveals something that is equally important to a discussion of the religious self in antiquity. In each ...


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pp. 253-254

Subject Index

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pp. 255-260

Source Index

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pp. 261-268

E-ISBN-13: 9780253111715
E-ISBN-10: 0253111714
Print-ISBN-13: 9780253346490

Page Count: 280
Illustrations: 1 index
Publication Year: 2005