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Christians and Their Many Identities in Late Antiquity, North Africa, 200–450 CE

by Éric Rebillard

Publication Year: 2012

For too long, the study of religious life in Late Antiquity has relied on the premise that Jews, pagans, and Christians were largely discrete groups divided by clear markers of belief, ritual, and social practice. More recently, however, a growing body of scholarship is revealing the degree to which identities in the late Roman world were fluid, blurred by ethnic, social, and gender differences. Christianness, for example, was only one of a plurality of identities available to Christians in this period.

In Christians and Their Many Identities in Late Antiquity, North Africa, 200-450 CE, Éric Rebillard explores how Christians in North Africa between the age of Tertullian and the age of Augustine were selective in identifying as Christian, giving salience to their religious identity only intermittently. By shifting the focus from groups to individuals, Rebillard more broadly questions the existence of bounded, stable, and homogeneous groups based on Christianness. In emphasizing that the intermittency of Christianness is structurally consistent in the everyday life of Christians from the end of the second to the middle of the fifth century, this book opens a whole range of new questions for the understanding of a crucial period in the history of Christianity.

Published by: Cornell University Press

Title Page, Copyright Pages

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pp. 2-5


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pp. v-7

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pp. vii-9

The research for this book started (too long ago) in the very congenial and productive context of the program Les identités religieuses dans les mondes grec et romain d’Alexandre à Justinien, directed by Nicole Belayche and Simon Mimouni (Paris, 2001–2005). Mark Vessey’s invitation...

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Note on Primary Sources

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pp. ix-11

Abbreviations for works are those of the Thesaurus Linguae Latinae for Latin texts and of the Diccionario Griego-Español (DGE) for Greek texts. Translations are mine unless otherwise acknowledged in the notes.

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pp. 1-8

Binary oppositions between Christians and non-Christians are now increasingly understood as a discursive construct, part of the making of a Christian identity (see, among others, Lieu 2004, Kahlos 2007, and Perkins 2009), and therefore it has become apparent that on-the-ground confessional identities are less important than contemporary sources...

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1. Setting the Stage: Carthage at the End of the Second Century

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pp. 9-33

In his magisterial study of Tertullian, Timothy Barnes notes: “It can surely be no accident that Tertullian’s three earliest extant works are De Spectaculis, De Idololatria and what appears in modern editions as the second book of De Cultu Feminarum. All three address themselves to similar problems: how ought Christians...

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2. Persecution and the Limits of Religious Allegiance

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pp. 34-60

In the Historia ecclesiastica, Eusebius describes a succession of periods of persecution and periods of peace corresponding to the reigns of different emperors. However, Eusebius’s view of these events is skewed by his contemporary circumstances, and his narrative of the persecutions is, as a result, distorted by a number of erroneous...

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3. Being Christian in the Age of Augustine

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pp. 61-91

Our study resumes with Augustine’s ordination as bishop of Hippo in 395 (for the date, see Lancel 2002: 184–185). The status of Christians in the Roman Empire has changed greatly in the interim. By this time Christianity has been legal in North Africa for nearly a hundred years, a fact that, as Augustine reminds his audience...

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pp. 92-97

That Christianness did not define early Christians’ experience in all of their interactions is not in itself an unexpected conclusion. Nevertheless, I think that it has been fruitful to focus specifically on the intermittency of Christian religious identity, as this has typically been underemphasized in early...


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pp. 99-107


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pp. 109-126


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pp. 127-134

E-ISBN-13: 9780801465994
E-ISBN-10: 0801465990
Print-ISBN-13: 9780801451423
Print-ISBN-10: 0801451426

Page Count: 144
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1