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The Catholic Historical Review 89.2 (2003) 288-290



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Dumbarton Oaks Papers, Number Fifty-five, 2001. (Washington, D.C.: Dumbarton Oaks Research Library and Collection. 2002. Pp. vii, 408. $100.00.)

This issue comprises the acts of two colloquia held at Dumbarton Oaks in 1999, the first on "Byzantine Eschatology: Views on Death and the Last Things, 8th to 15th Centuries," the second on "Byzantium in the Medieval World: Monetary Transactions and Exchange." Four miscellaneous articles and a Fieldwork report on the 1998 excavation season at Amorium round off the volume.

The eight articles from "Byzantine Eschatology" approach the theme of deathfrom a variety of perspectives: socio-historical (George Dennis), liturgico-theological (Elena Velkovska, Brian Daley), philosophical (Joseph Munitiz, Nicholas Constas, Alexander Alexakis), and narrative (John Wortley, Alexander Golitzin), with the (surprising) exception of the art-historical. In the absence of comprehensive studies on this subject comparable to the monographs of E. F. Paxton and E. Rebillard for the West, the authors admirably fill a gap in Byzantine scholarship by drawing directly from primary sources. George Dennis' introduction is "largely anecdotal," touching on the broader context of death such as medicine, violence, and capital punishment through hagiographical and historical sources. The Byzantine emperors' merciful attitude to criminals, despite their preference for corporal punishments such as mutilations, is held up as an example for modern (American) society. The "unexpected result" of his overview is "that the Byzantines never developed a cult of the dead." Velkovska distinguishes between the earlier ensembles of prayers for the dead, modelled according to the monastic matins, and a structured ritual extant in a tenth-century Southern Italian manuscript, Grottaferrata G.B. C, of which she offers the first ever edition. Though this article is finely balanced between hard liturgical fact [End Page 288] and subtle analysis, it benefits from being set within the theological context outlined by Daley, who traces an evolution from the fearful aspect of death and judgment through to a gentler, more hopeful Christian approach to death, embodied in the popular devotion to the Virgin's Dormition.

Both liturgical and theological evolution regarding death expose the continuous cross-fertilization between the Greek and Latin environments in the first Christian centuries. On the other hand, Byzantine views on "predetermination" (i.e., predestination) and the "Middle State of Souls" (i.e., Purgatory) were honed only by the later confrontations with the Latins, as Munitiz and Constas show respectively. Other influences of the varied cultural environment are picked up: Wortley sees Egyptian beliefs in the fate of souls as a likely source for the strange accounts of some of the popular tales about judgment; Alexakis reconstructs the continuum of Indo-Egyptian theories of reincarnation that, through Hellenistic thinkers, fed into a number of heretical groups well into the Middle Ages. The background of Jewish beliefs concerning the afterlife is ever-present, from the references to the "bosom of Abraham" mentioned in the prayers and articulated theologically in Constas's learned diachronic survey, to the apocalyptic apocrypha studied in some detail by Golitzin, who traces the resurfacing of such motifs in Middle-Byzantine monasticism.

If the stark focus of the Nicaeno-Constantinopolitan creed on the Resurrection epitomizes what Byzantines should think of the afterlife, Gregory Nazianzen's exhortation, "Philosophize about... resurrection, about judgment, about reward... for in these subjects to hit the mark is not useless, and to miss it is not dangerous," quoted by Constas (p. 120, n. 115), produced what he defines as "an assortment of eschatologies strewn somewhat carelessly about." Constas's own anthropological analysis shows how views of death shaped the activity of the living, impacting not only on the moral conduct of the individual, but also on the cultic practices of the ecclesial group, whose behavior reflected their metaphysical stance on the issue of the soul's fate. Thus these essays present rich and original perspectives on Byzantine eschatology, with the only regret that they might have been fruitfully crossed-referenced for the reader.

From the second colloquium, Lucia Travaini's paper on "The Normans between Byzantium and the Islamic World...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1534-0708
Print ISSN
0008-8080
Pages
pp. 288-290
Launched on MUSE
2003-06-10
Open Access
No
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