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Christianity, Empire, and the Making of Religion in Late Antiquity

By Jeremy M. Schott

Publication Year: 2011

In Christianity, Empire, and the Making of Religion in Late Antiquity, Jeremy M. Schott examines the ways in which conflicts between Christian and pagan intellectuals over religious, ethnic, and cultural identity contributed to the transformation of Roman imperial rhetoric and ideology in the early fourth century C.E. During this turbulent period, which began with Diocletian's persecution of the Christians and ended with Constantine's assumption of sole rule and the consolidation of a new Christian empire, Christian apologists and anti-Christian polemicists launched a number of literary salvos in a battle for the minds and souls of the empire.

Schott focuses on the works of the Platonist philosopher and anti- Christian polemicist Porphyry of Tyre and his Christian respondents: the Latin rhetorician Lactantius, Eusebius, bishop of Caesarea, and the emperor Constantine. Previous scholarship has tended to narrate the Christianization of the empire in terms of a new religion's penetration and conquest of classical culture and society. The present work, in contrast, seeks to suspend the static, essentializing conceptualizations of religious identity that lie behind many studies of social and political change in late antiquity in order to investigate the processes through which Christian and pagan identities were constructed. Drawing on the insights of postcolonial discourse analysis, Schott argues that the production of Christian identity and, in turn, the construction of a Christian imperial discourse were intimately and inseparably linked to the broader politics of Roman imperialism.

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

Series: Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion


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pp. vii-9

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Introduction: Identity Politics in the Later Roman Empire

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pp. 1-14

In 299 c.E. things were going well for Diocletian. His political experiment in tetrarchy had paid off. Maximian and Constantius I had defeated the usurper Carausius in Gaul and Britain. Meanwhile, Diocletian's Caesar, Galerius, had defeated the Persians and concluded a treaty that promised to secure the eastern borders. A pious man, Diocletian attended auguries following...

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1 Philosophers, Apologists, and Empire

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pp. 15-51

In the early 150s C.E. the Christian philosopher and teacher Justin responded to the persecution and martyrdom of his fellow Christian Ptolemaeus by penning his Second Apology. Justin feared that he too might "be plotted against ... and fixed to the rack-maybe even by Crescens, that lover of empty chatter and glory-hound" (2 ApoL 3.l).Justin's student Tatian would later write that the Stoic Crescens did indeed try to instigate Justin's downfall...

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2 Porphyry on Greeks, Christians, and Others

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pp. 52-78

At the turn of the fourth century, the philosopher Porphyry was nearing the end of his long career. 1 Born in Tyre in the province of Syria in or around 234 C.E., he had traveled first to Athens, where he studied under the philologist Longinus. He then made his way to Rome, where, at around the age of thirty, he joined Plotinus's circle. After Plotinus's death, he would go on to become one of the most influential figures in later Platonism...

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3 Vera Religio and Falsae Religiones: Lactantius's Divine Institutes

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pp. 79-109

Porphyry's erudite and spirited anti-Christian polemics did not go unanswered. According to Jerome, Methodius of Olympus countered with a work, Against Porphyry, in the early fourth century.1 Eusebius of Caesarea, for his part, wrote a twenty-five-book response Against Porphyry, now lost,2 while his apologetic masterwork, the Preparation/Demonstration of the Gospel, was also written largely as...

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4 What Difference Does an Emperor Make? Apologetics and Imperial Ideology in Constantine's Oration to the Saints and Imperial Letters

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pp. 110-135

In 312 C.E., Constantine defeated Maxentius at the Milvian Bridge to be come sole ruler of the Western provinces. According to legend, Constan tine owed his victory to a conversion experience: a vision (or dream) of the cross (or Chi Rho) and the instruction "by this, conquer."1 Whatever the exact nature of Constantine's conversion experience or his personal ...

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5 From Hebrew Wisdom to Christian Hegemony: Eusebius of Caesarea's Apologetics and Panegyrics

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pp. 136-165

Born in the 260s C.E., Eusebius was just beginning his literary career when the Great Persecution broke out in 303. Straddling the Constantinian divide, he lived through the persecutions under Galerius and Maximinus Daia as well as Constantine's final victory over Licinius. Eusebius would go on to become the principal historian of both the persecution and the Constantinian revolution. Eusebius's earlier literary efforts, however, and in particular...

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Epilogue: Empire's Palimpsest

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pp. 166-176

I have argued for a consideration of pagan polemics and Christian apologetics not simply as sites of "religious conflict" or the production of "self-definition" but also as discourses both constituted by and constitutive of Roman imperialism. Universal history, ethnography, and figurative reading strategies-the tools of philosophers and apologists alike-owed much of their...

Appendix: Porphyry's Polemics and the Great Persecution

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pp. 177-186

List of Abbreviations

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pp. 187-190


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pp. 191-232


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pp. 233-246


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pp. 247-252

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pp. 253-254

I could not have completed this book without the support of numerous I presented early versions of several chapters at the annual meetings of the Society of Biblical Literature, the American Academy of Religion, the North American Patristics Society, the Society for Late Antiquity's Shifting Frontiers conference, and the International Patristics Confer ...

E-ISBN-13: 9780812203462
Print-ISBN-13: 9780812240924

Page Count: 272
Publication Year: 2011

Series Title: Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion