- The Faces of the Other: Religious Rivalry and Ethnic Encounters in the Later Roman World ed. by Maijastina Kahlos
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This volume, the result of an interdisciplinary collaboration between scholars from universities in Finland and Tel Aviv, explores depictions of otherness in the Roman Empire of the first through fifth centuries. There are six articles on the subject of religious others in Part I, and three articles on the construction of ethnic others in Part II. The goal of the project is described as an exploration of “the process of image formation” (4). The introduction, by Maijastina Kahlos, provides a thoughtful theoretical introduction to the construct of alterity. Otherness is explored as a relational category, employed to segregate or subordinate another group.
In the first part, Anders Klostergaard Peterson explores the rhetoric that the apostle Paul employed to characterize rival teachers in Corinth. Klostergaard Peterson begins with an extensive discussion of the process of othering, followed by a close reading of the second letter of Paul to the Corinthians. He argues that the opponents whom Paul warns the Corinthians against are a threat because their positions are very similar to Paul’s. This revises the traditional view of Paul as “the lonely figure of nascent Christianity” (50). The identity that the apostle creates through his letter is dependent on a demarcation from the rival teachers. Paul also portrays the Corinthians as lacking a full understanding of Christianity if they do not accept his leadership.
Marika Rauhala discusses Roman descriptions of the cult of Cybele, from the Republican to the late antique eras. She compares the techniques and purposes used by defenders of traditional Roman cults, and by the early Christians, to criticize the cult of Cybele. When this cult was initially introduced, Romans externalized the elements they found strange by ascribing them to the eunuch priests and the cults’ foreign associations. As Christianity grew among the Roman elites, the mention of eunuch priests in pagan sources came to an abrupt halt. Rauhala contends that the initial hostility towards these priests, who had challenged traditional social hierarchies by filling priestly roles that had been the exclusive domain of Roman aristocrats, was now redirected as anxiety about challenges from newly Christian elites. Pagan elites such as Emperor Julian became keen to defend the cult of the goddess. Meanwhile, the popularity of the cult made it a necessary target for Christian authors, who attacked its immodest spectacles. This served to distance the two cults, which shared common elements of salvation and initiation into mysteries.
Päivi Vähäkangas investigates the arguments of the second-century Bishop Irenaeus of Lyons against the Valentinians, which served to delineate the doctrinal boundaries of the developing Christian church. Valentinus had become an influential Christian teacher in Rome in the early second century, and his followers continued to exert influence after his death. Vähäkangas identifies Irenaeus’ strategies of argumentation: condemnations of the origins, doctrinal inconsistencies, imitative qualities, and alleged immorality of the Valentinians. He refused to call them Christians, alluding to them only by the names of their teachers. This article examines each of Ireneus’s rhetorical strategies in some detail, and concludes with a comparison of the similar strategies used by the philosopher Celsus against the Christians. Ultimately, the bishop of Lyons’ goal was the creation of doctrinal unity, which he achieved through the exclusion of groups such as the Valentinians. [End Page 260]
Likewise, Anders-Christian Jacobsen identifies the negative views of pagans, heretics, Jews, and women in the writings of Tertullian at the beginning of the third century. Jacobson explores how these works were employed to reinforce Christian identity in a mixed society. In the Apologeticum, Tertullian addressed the mistreatment of Christians by Roman magistrates, which is presented as proof that Roman society was turning away from the truth. In De idololatria, Tertullian constructed boundaries separating Christians from the pagans, presenting them as idolaters. De spectaculis explained to new Christians why they should avoid public shows, a part of the...