University of Pennsylvania Press

Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion

Series Editors: Daniel Boyarin, Virginia Burrus, Derek Krueger

Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press

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Divinations: Rereading Late Ancient Religion

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The Death of a Prophet

The End of Muhammad's Life and the Beginnings of Islam

By Stephen J. Shoemaker

"A work of utmost importance, and one that has profound implications for our understanding of how Islam began."--Fred Donner, University of Chicago The oldest Islamic biography of Muhammad, written in the mid-eighth century, relates that the prophet died at Medina in 632, while earlier and more numerous Jewish, Christian, Samaritan, and even Islamic sources indicate that Muhammad survived to lead the conquest of Palestine, beginning in 634-35. Although this discrepancy has been known for several decades, Stephen J. Shoemaker here writes the first systematic study of the various traditions. Using methods and perspectives borrowed from biblical studies, Shoemaker concludes that these reports of Muhammad's leadership during the Palestinian invasion likely preserve an early Islamic tradition that was later revised to meet the needs of a changing Islamic self-identity. Muhammad and his followers appear to have expected the world to end in the immediate future, perhaps even in their own lifetimes, Shoemaker contends. When the eschatological Hour failed to arrive on schedule and continued to be deferred to an ever more distant point, the meaning of Muhammad's message and the faith that he established needed to be fundamentally rethought by his early followers. The larger purpose of The Death of a Prophet exceeds the mere possibility of adjusting the date of Muhammad's death by a few years; far more important to Shoemaker are questions about the manner in which Islamic origins should be studied. The difference in the early sources affords an important opening through which to explore the nature of primitive Islam more broadly. Arguing for greater methodological unity between the study of Christian and Islamic origins, Shoemaker emphasizes the potential value of non-Islamic sources for reconstructing the history of formative Islam. Stephen J. Shoemaker is Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Oregon and author of Ancient Traditions of the Virgin Mary's Dormition and Assumption.

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Demonic Desires

"Yetzer Hara" and the Problem of Evil in Late Antiquity

By Ishay Rosen-Zvi

In Demonic Desires, Ishay Rosen-Zvi examines the concept of yetzer hara, or evil inclination, and its evolution in biblical and rabbinic literature. Contrary to existing scholarship, which reads the term under the rubric of destructive sexual desire, Rosen-Zvi contends that in late antiquity the yetzer represents a general tendency toward evil. Rather than the lower bodily part of a human, the rabbinic yetzer is a wicked, sophisticated inciter, attempting to snare humans to sin. The rabbinic yetzer should therefore not be read in the tradition of the Hellenistic quest for control over the lower parts of the psyche, writes Rosen-Zvi, but rather in the tradition of ancient Jewish and Christian demonology.

Rosen-Zvi conducts a systematic and comprehensive analysis of the some one hundred and fifty appearances of the evil yetzer in classical rabbinic literature to explore the biblical and postbiblical search for the sources of human sinfulness. By examining the yetzer within a specific demonological tradition, Demonic Desires places the yetzer discourse in the larger context of a move toward psychologization in late antiquity, in which evil—and even demons—became internalized within the human psyche. The book discusses various manifestations of this move in patristic and monastic material, from Clement and Origin to Antony, Athanasius, and Evagrius. It concludes with a consideration of the broader implications of the yetzer discourse in rabbinic anthropology.

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Envisioning Islam

Syriac Christians and the Early Muslim World

By Michael Philip Penn

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Fear of God and the Beginning of Wisdom

The School of Nisibis and the Development of Scholastic Culture in Late Antique Mesopotamia

By Adam H. Becker

The School of Nisibis was the main intellectual center of the Church of the East in the sixth and early seventh centuries C.E. and an institution of learning unprecedented in antiquity. Fear of God and the Beginning of Wisdom provides a history both of the School and of the scholastic culture of the Church of the East more generally in the late antique and early Islamic periods. Adam H. Becker examines the ideological and intellectual backgrounds of the school movement and reassesses the evidence for the supposed predecessor of the School of Nisibis, the famed School of the Persians of Edessa. Furthermore, he argues that the East-Syrian ("Nestorian") school movement is better understood as an integral and at times contested part of the broader spectrum of East-Syrian monasticism.

Becker examines the East-Syrian culture of ritualized learning, which flourished at the same time and in the same place as the famed Babylonian Rabbinic academies. Jews and Christians in Mesopotamia developed similar institutions aimed at inculcating an identity in young males that defined them as beings endowed by their creator with the capacity to study. The East-Syrian schools are the most significant contemporary intellectual institutions immediately comparable to the Rabbinic academies, even as they served as the conduit for the transmission of Greek philosophical texts and ideas to Muslims in the early 'Abbasid period.

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Founding the Fathers

Early Church History and Protestant Professors in Nineteenth-Century America

By Elizabeth A. Clark

Through their teaching of early Christian history and theology, Elizabeth A. Clark contends, Princeton Theological Seminary, Harvard Divinity School, Yale Divinity School, and Union Theological Seminary functioned as America's closest equivalents to graduate schools in the humanities during the nineteenth century. These four Protestant institutions, founded to train clergy, later became the cradles for the nonsectarian study of religion at secular colleges and universities. Clark, one of the world's most eminent scholars of early Christianity, explores this development in Founding the Fathers: Early Church History and Protestant Professors in Nineteenth-Century America.

Based on voluminous archival materials, the book charts how American theologians traveled to Europe to study in Germany and confronted intellectual currents that were invigorating but potentially threatening to their faith. The Union and Yale professors in particular struggled to tame German biblical and philosophical criticism to fit American evangelical convictions. German models that encouraged a positive view of early and medieval Christianity collided with Protestant assumptions that the church had declined grievously between the Apostolic and Reformation eras. Trying to reconcile these views, the Americans came to offer some counterbalance to traditional Protestant hostility both to contemporary Roman Catholicism and to those historical periods that had been perceived as Catholic, especially the patristic era.

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Grammar and Christianity in the Late Roman World

By Catherine M. Chin

Between the years 350 and 500 a large body of Latin artes grammaticae emerged, educational texts outlining the study of Latin grammar and attempting a systematic discussion of correct Latin usage. These texts—the most complete of which are attributed to Donatus, Charisius, Servius, Diomedes, Pompeius, and Priscian—have long been studied as documents in the history of linguistic theory and literary scholarship. In Grammar and Christianity in the Late Roman World, Catherine Chin instead finds within them an opportunity to probe the connections between religious ideology and literary culture in the later Roman Empire.

To Chin, the production and use of these texts played a decisive role both in the construction of a pre-Christian classical culture and in the construction of Christianity as a religious entity bound to a religious text. In exploring themes of utopian writing, pedagogical violence, and the narration of the self, the book describes the multiple ways literary education contributed to the idea that the Roman Empire and its inhabitants were capable of converting from one culture to another, from classical to Christian. The study thus reexamines the tensions between these two idealized cultures in antiquity by suggesting that, on a literary level, they were produced simultaneously through reading and writing techniques that were common across the empire.

In bringing together and reevaluating fundamental topics from the fields of religious studies, classics, education, and literary criticism, Grammar and Christianity in the Late Roman World offers readers from these disciplines the opportunity to reconsider the basic conditions under which religions and cultures interact.

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The Invention of Peter

Apostolic Discourse and Papal Authority in Late Antiquity

By George E. Demacopoulos

On the first anniversary of his election to the papacy, Leo the Great stood before the assembly of bishops convening in Rome and forcefully asserted his privileged position as the heir of Peter the Apostle. This declaration marked the beginning of a powerful tradition: the Bishop of Rome could leverage the cult of St. Peter, and the popular association of St. Peter with the city itself, to his advantage. In The Invention of Peter, George E. Demacopoulos examines this Petrine discourse, revealing how the link between the historic Peter and the Roman Church strengthened, shifted, and evolved during the papacies of two of the most creative and dynamic popes of late antiquity, ultimately shaping medieval Christianity as we now know it.

By emphasizing the ways in which this rhetoric of apostolic privilege was employed, extended, transformed, or resisted between the reigns of Leo the Great and Gregory the Great, Demacopoulos offers an alternate account of papal history that challenges the dominant narrative of an inevitable and unbroken rise in papal power from late antiquity through the Middle Ages. He unpacks escalating claims to ecclesiastical authority, demonstrating how this rhetoric, which almost always invokes a link to St. Peter, does not necessarily represent actual power or prestige but instead reflects moments of papal anxiety and weakness. Through its nuanced examination of an array of episcopal activity—diplomatic, pastoral, political, and administrative—The Invention of Peter offers a new perspective on the emergence of papal authority and illuminates the influence that Petrine discourse exerted on the survival and exceptional status of the Bishop of Rome.

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The Iranian Talmud

Reading the Bavli in Its Sasanian Context

By Shai Secunda

Although the Babylonian Talmud, or Bavli, has been a text central and vital to the Jewish canon since the Middle Ages, the context in which it was produced has been poorly understood. Delving deep into Sasanian material culture and literary remains, Shai Secunda pieces together the dynamic world of late antique Iran, providing an unprecedented and accessible overview of the world that shaped the Bavli.

Secunda unites the fields of Talmudic scholarship with Old Iranian studies to enable a fresh look at the heterogeneous religious and ethnic communities of pre-Islamic Iran. He analyzes the intercultural dynamics between the Jews and their Persian Zoroastrian neighbors, exploring the complex processes and modes of discourse through which these groups came into contact and considering the ways in which rabbis and Zoroastrian priests perceived one another. Placing the Bavli and examples of Middle Persian literature side by side, the Zoroastrian traces in the former and the discursive and Talmudic qualities of the latter become evident. The Iranian Talmud introduces a substantial and essential shift in the field, setting the stage for further Irano-Talmudic research.

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Kissing Christians

Ritual and Community in the Late Ancient Church

By Michael Philip Penn

In the first five centuries of the common era, the kiss was a distinctive and near-ubiquitous marker of Christianity. Although Christians did not invent the kiss—Jewish and pagan literature is filled with references to kisses between lovers, family members, and individuals in relationships of power and subordination—Christians kissed one another in highly specific settings and in ways that set them off from the non-Christian population.

Christians kissed each other during prayer, Eucharist, baptism, and ordination and in connection with greeting, funerals, monastic vows, and martyrdom. As Michael Philip Penn shows in Kissing Christians, this ritual kiss played a key role in defining group membership and strengthening the social bond between the communal body and its individual members.

Kissing Christians presents the first comprehensive study of the ritual kiss and how controversies surrounding it became part of larger debates regarding the internal structure of Christian communities and their relations with outsiders. Penn traces how Christian writers exalted those who kissed only fellow Christians, proclaimed that Jews did not have a kiss, prohibited exchanging the kiss with potential heretics, privileged the confessor's kiss, prohibited Christian men and women from kissing each other, and forbade laity from kissing clergy. Kissing Christians also investigates connections between kissing and group cohesion, kissing practices and purity concerns, and how Christian leaders used the motif of the kiss of Judas to examine theological notions of loyalty, unity, forgiveness, hierarchy, and subversion.

Exploring connections between bodies, power, and performance, Kissing Christians bridges the gap between cultural and liturgical approaches to antiquity. It breaks significant new ground in its application of literary and sociological theory to liturgical history and will have a profound impact on these fields.

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Liturgical Subjects

Christian Ritual, Biblical Narrative, and the Formation of the Self in Byzantium

By Derek Krueger

Liturgical Subjects examines the history of the self in the Byzantine Empire, challenging narratives of Christian subjectivity that focus only on classical antiquity and the Western Middle Ages. As Derek Krueger demonstrates, Orthodox Christian interior life was profoundly shaped by patterns of worship introduced and disseminated by Byzantine clergy. Hymns, prayers, and sermons transmitted complex emotional responses to biblical stories, particularly during Lent. Religious services and religious art taught congregants who they were in relation to God and each other.

Focusing on Christian practice in Constantinople from the sixth to eleventh centuries, Krueger charts the impact of the liturgical calendar, the eucharistic rite, hymns for vigils and festivals, and scenes from the life of Christ on the making of Christian selves. He explores the verse of great Byzantine liturgical poets, including Romanos the Melodist, Andrew of Crete, Theodore the Stoudite, and Symeon the New Theologian. Their compositions offered templates for Christian self-regard and self-criticism, defining the Christian "I." Cantors, choirs, and congregations sang in the first person singular expressing guilt and repentence, while prayers and sermons defined the collective identity of the Christian community as sinners in need of salvation. By examining the way models of selfhood were formed, performed, and transmitted in the Byzantine Empire, Liturgical Subjects adds a vital dimension to the history of the self in Western culture.

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