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Religious Rivalries and the Struggle for Success in Sardis and Smyrna

Richard S. Ascough

Publication Year: 2005

This volume, one in a series of books examining religious rivalries, focuses in detail on the religious dimension of life in two particular Roman cities: Sardis and Smyrna. The essays explore the relationships and rivalries among Jews, Christians, and various Greco-Roman religious groups from the second century bce to the fourth century ce.

The thirteen contributors, including seasoned scholars and promising newcomers, bring fresh perspectives on religious life in antiquity. They draw upon a wide range of archaeological, epigraphic, and literary data to investigate the complex web of relationships that existed among the religious groups of these two cities—from coexistence and cooperation to competition and conflict. To the extent that the essays investigate how religious groups are shaped by their urban settings, the book also offers insights into the material urban realities of the Roman Empire.

Investigating two cities together in one volume highlights similarities and differences in the interaction of religious groups in each location. The specific focus on Sardis and Smyrna is broadened through an investigation of methodological issues involved in the study of the interaction of urban-based religious groups in antiquity. The volume will be of particular interest to scholars and advanced students in Biblical Studies, Classical Studies, and Archaeology.

Published by: Wilfrid Laurier University Press

Series: Studies in Christianity and Judaism


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pp. v-vi

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pp. vii

This project has received innumerable kinds of support. First, the participants in the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies’ Religious Rivalries seminar have, over the past nine years, provided deep insight and provocative discussion on the issues raised by the papers presented in the seminar sessions. I am grateful to the members of the seminar’s steering committee who have served with...


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pp. ix


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pp. x

Abbreviations [Includes Map]

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pp. xi-xvi


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1 Interaction among Religious Groups in Sardis and Smyrna

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pp. 3-13

Building on a long-standing tradition of focused New Testament seminars dating back to 1977, in 1995 the Canadian Society of Biblical Studies inaugurated a new seminar under the title “Religious Rivalries and the Struggle for Success: Jews, Christians, and Other Religious Groups in Local Settings in the First Two Centuries CE.” It is a complex and perhaps overly lengthy...

Overview of Religious Groups in Sardis and Smyrna

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2 Jewish Communities in Sardis and Smyrna

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pp. 17-24

In approaching the question of Jewish communities in Sardis and Smyrna during the first two centuries CE, my first task was to try to find primary source material—literary, archaeological, or inscriptional. However, I could find very little within the given limits of place and time.1 It was necessary then to colour outside the temporal lines. There is some secondary material, largely...

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3 Christian Communities in Sardis and Smyrna

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pp. 25-39

While obtaining information about religious practices of Christians in the first two centuries of the Common Era in Smyrna and Sardis is difficult, enough exists to reconstruct how polytheists, Jews, and Christians there coexisted and co-operated during the first three centuries CE. The “conflict model” of defining relationships between these groups has buried within it assumptions...

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4 Greco-Roman Religions in Sardis and Smyrna

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pp. 40-52

In this essay I will undertake a brief survey of the many polytheistic religious groups1 of Greco-Roman antiquity that are manifest distinctly, and perhaps distinctively, at Sardis and Smyrna. In its original form, delivered to the CSBS Religious Rivalries seminar in 1998, the essay had two primary goals. First, it aimed to provide an orientation to the important deities attested at Sardis...

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5 Spheres of Contention, Claims of Pre-eminence: Rivalries among Associations in Sardis and Smyrna

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pp. 53-63

The monuments and inscriptions of Roman Asia Minor give us important glimpses into the lives of unofficial groups and guilds that regularly met for a range of activities. In several respects, these “associations” in cities like Sardis and Smyrna provide an entry into the complicated world of social and religious interactions and rivalries in antiquity. Moreover, the evidence from...

Indirect Contact among Jews and Christians in Sardis and Smyrna

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6 Some Astrological Motifs in the Book of Revelation

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pp. 67-85

Astrological beliefs and practices are found in many religious traditions, ancient and modern. In classical Greco-Roman religion and culture, astrology was arguably the most popular form of divination; one recent scholar has described astrology as “the most important and widespread Hellenistic system of piety” (Martin 1991, 59). Many astrological texts have come down to...

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7 The Patriarchs and the Zodiac: Revelation

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pp. 86-103

Who is the woman in Revelation 12:1, and who or what are the stars? These questions lead into a fascinating mélange of possibilities that may illuminate the complex interactions between Judaism and astrology in the ancient world, as well as patterns of interaction and rivalry among religious options.2 Are the stars the patriarchs, the signs of the zodiac, or the apostles? These...

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8 Was Roma the Scarlet Harlot? The Worship of the Goddess Roma in Sardis and Smyrna

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pp. 104-119

The great harlot continues to be one of the more striking and enigmatic images of the empire in the book of Revelation. The vision itself begins with the invitation of one of God’s avenging angels to the seer to come and see the judgment of the great harlot (Revelation 17:1). After embarking on a spiritual journey, the seer arrives in the wilderness, where he receives the vision...

Interaction among Religious Groups in Sardis and Smyrna

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9 “Caring for All the Weak”: Polytheist and Christian Charity in Sardis and Smyrna

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pp. 123-140

This essay1 is a continuation of work done in analysis of Rodney Stark’s 1996 book The Rise of Christianity. In an earlier essay, soon to be published, I critiqued the material covered in chapters 4 (“Epidemics, Networks, and Conversion”) and 7 (“Urban Chaos and Crisis: The Case of Antioch”) of Stark’s book (Muir 2005). Stark assumed there was a sharp contrast between Christianity...

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10 Martyrdom: In Accordance with the Gospel

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pp. 141-155

Robert L. Wilken, in The Land Called Holy: Palestine in Christian History and Thought, observes that Christians, from their earliest origins, were inclined to express their religiosity at places where fellow-Christians were buried. “Like Greeks and Romans who built shrines to mark the place where they buried their famous dead or celebrated the exploits of mythical heroes, Christians...

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11 Among Gentiles, Jews, and Christians: Formation of Christian Identity in Melito of Sardis

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pp. 156-174

In the two first centuries CE, the struggle for Christian identity was a fundamental and vital challenge for Christians. The Christ-believers gradually grew out of their original Jewish context and gathered people of various cultural, social, and religious backgrounds. In the second century the Christians had grown in number; they had gained influence and had become more...

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12 Acquaintances, Supporters, and Competitors: Evidence of Inter-Connectedness and Rivalry among the Religious Groups in Sardis

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pp. 175-194

In his 1996 article “Multiculturalism at Sardis,” John Crawford presented his analysis of the relationship among Jews, Christians, and polytheists, based on the realia from the Byzantine shops in Sardis. Crawford, who was involved in the excavation of the site, is the only one to have written a paper on the evidence gleaned from these shops, and his main premise, that Jews...

Broadening the Context

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13 Down the Road from Sardis: Adaptive Religious Structures and Religious Interaction in the Ancient City of Priene

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pp. 197-210

In the Roman civic environment, no less than in our own modern cities, construction was a natural part of life. The building of new structures, and the remodelling of older ones, was an integral part of the fabric of ordinary urban society. L. Michael White has effectively drawn attention to the importance of taking notice of the adaptive religious structures of the Roman...

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14 Urbanization in the Roman East and the Inter-Religious Struggle for Success

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pp. 211-241

From the inception of the work of the CSBS’s seminar on religious rivalries and the struggle for success, participants have profited conceptually, theoretically, and methodologically from the definition of the seminar’s focus by Leif Vaage (1995). First, Vaage insisted from the outset that inter- and intra-religious rivalries should not, and could not, be analyzed as a distinct issue...


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15 Religious Coexistence, Co-operation, Competition, and Conflict in Sardis and Smyrna

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pp. 245-252

During the first three years of the CSBS’s Religious Rivalries seminar, the focus was on the city of Caesarea Maritima, the results of which have been published by Terry Donaldson as Religious Rivalries and the Struggle for Success in Caesarea Maritima (2000). In summarizing the situation at Caesarea Maritima, Donaldson picks up on John North’s analogy of the marketplace to describe...


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pp. 253-295

Works Cited

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pp. 297-336

Modern Authors Index

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pp. 337-341

Ancient Sources Index

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pp. 342-352

Subject Index

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pp. 353-355

E-ISBN-13: 9780889209244
Print-ISBN-13: 9780889204720
Print-ISBN-10: 0889204721

Page Count: 376
Publication Year: 2005

Series Title: Studies in Christianity and Judaism