Violence and Belief in Late Antiquity
Militant Devotion in Christianity and Islam
Publication Year: 2012
In Violence and Belief in Late Antiquity, Thomas Sizgorich seeks to understand why and how violent expressions of religious devotion became central to the self-understandings of both Christian and Muslim communities between the fourth and ninth centuries. Sizgorich argues that the cultivation of violent martyrdom as a path to holiness was in no way particular to Islam; rather, it emerged from a matrix put into place by the Christians of late antiquity. Paying close attention to the role of memory and narrative in the formation of individual and communal selves, Sizgorich identifies a common pool of late ancient narrative forms upon which both Christian and Muslim communities drew.
In the process of recollecting the past, Sizgorich explains, Christian and Muslim communities alike elaborated iterations of Christianity or Islam that demanded of each believer a willingness to endure or inflict violence on God's behalf and thereby created militant local pieties that claimed to represent the one "real" Christianity or the only "pure" form of Islam. These militant communities used a shared system of signs, symbols, and stories, stories in which the faithful manifested their purity in conflict with the imperial powers of the world.
Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press
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IN THE NINTH century of the Common Era, the pen of a Christian living in safety very near the heart of Abbasid imperial power scratched out an old and enduring critique of Islam. The Christian, an Iraqi named 'Ammār al-Baṣrī (d. c. 845 C.E.), charged that as a religion Islam was illegitimate because it had...
1. “The Devil Spoke from Scripture”: Boundary Maintenance and Communal Integrity in Late Antiquity
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RECENT RESEARCH CONCERNING the problem of intercommunal intolerance in the late antique world has proceeded in what would often seem to be divergent directions. On the one hand, it has become readily apparent that where previous generations of scholars were content to find self-evident and...
2. “The Living Voice of Kindred Blood”: Narrative, Identity, and the Primordial Past
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FROM CHRYSOSTOM’S POINT of view, then, there were certain behaviors and beliefs that served to mark individuals as either inside or outside of the one community of God upon the earth. This was a point of view Chrysostom undoubtedly shared with a good number of his contemporaries.1 The devil...
3. “What Has the Pious in Common with the Impious?” Ambrose, Libanius, and the Problem of Late Antique Religious Violence
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IN 388 C.E., a band of Christian militants attacked a Jewish synagogue in the city of Callinicum (modern Raqqa, Syria), near the Roman Empire’s frontier with Persia, burning it to the ground. The first reaction of the emperor Theodosius to the event was to hold the head...
4.“Are You Christians?” Violence, Ascetics, and Knowing One’s Own
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BY THE END of the sixth century, the imperial descendants of Theodosius and the distant offspring of the Syrian monks whose zealotry Libanius lamented in his Oratio 30 found themselves on opposed sides of a bitter and often violent controversy over the nature of...
5. “Horsemen by Day and Monks by Night”: Narrative and Community in Islamic Late Antiquity
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DURING THE CENTURY or so after the hijra OF 622 C.E.,1 monotheistic Arab armies conquered the Syrian, Egyptian, and North African territories of the Roman Empire, and completely overran the Persian Sasanian Empire in Mesopotamia. Later, the Visigothic kingdom of Iberia was destroyed and its...
6. “The Sword Scrapes Away Transgressions”: Ascetic Praxis and Communal Boundaries in Late Antique Islam
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THE NARRATIVES OF Muslim communal origins articulated by al-Azdī, Ibn Isḥāq, and other early Muslim authors repeatedly emphasized the unflinching ascetic virtue of the first Muslims, particularly as these first Muslims came into conflict with the great powers of late antiquity during the opening days...
7. “Do You Not Fear God?” The Khawārij in Early Islamic Society
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SOMETIME IN THE year 37/657–58, a group of Muslim pietists encountered the son of one of the companions of the Prophet on a road leading from the city of Baṣra in Iraq. They asked the man, whose name was...
8. “This Is a Very Filthy Question, and No One Should Discuss It”: The Messy World of Ibn Hanbal
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ONE DAY IN the eighth century, we are told, a monk bishop was walking down a road in the region of Margā, in Mesopotamia. He came upon a camel herder, facing the east, singing a complicated hymn. Amazed, he approached the man to ask him where he had learned the hymn. The man answered him...
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IN MANY WAYS, this book ends where it began. It began, in Chapter 1, with John Chrysostom’s anxieties concerning what he understood as the perilous transgression by members of his community of the behavioral standards that marked one as a genuine Christian. In response to this anxiety, I suggested...
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Page Count: 408
Publication Year: 2012
Series Title: Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion