- From Jupiter to Christ: On the History of Religion in the Roman Imperial World by Jörg Rüpke
Translated and revised from the original Von Jupiter zu Christus: Religionsgeschichte in römischer Zeit (Darmstadt, 2011), this book repositions the history of religion in the Roman Empire within a fresh conceptual framework. Rüpke opens with a programmatic introduction (new for this edition) that sets out the case for studying Roman religion as it evolved through local and provincial interactions with Roman imperial power; as it operated across the highly differentiated regions and microregions of the Mediterranean; and as it extended and diversified its forms and strategies of communication. Specified as the book’s thesis is the claim (sure to be disputed by some) that what changes during the Roman Empire is not the number of “religions” but “religion” itself: “From being concerned with addressing life’s contingencies . . . and creating a political identity . . . it came to embrace the entire context of human life, becoming a medium for formulation of group identities, and for political legitimation” (2–3).
Fourteen mostly short chapters follow, grouped under three headings: “Globalization in a Traditional Form” (part 1), “Media and Vectors of the Spread of Religion in the Roman Empire” (part 2), and “The Roman World Changes: Religious Change on a Global Scale” (part 3).
Part 1 applies theories of globalization—and “glocalization”—to evidence as varied as an endowment inscription from imperial Gabii (chapter 1); the epi-graphic corpus of the cult of Jupiter Dolichenus in Rome (chapter 2); the early Christian text The Shepherd of Hermas (chapter 3); and numerical data on the [End Page 278] organizational patterns of religious specialists in Roman cults (chapter 4). Rüpke’s willingness to bridge disciplinary gaps and his familiarity with sociological approaches are on display throughout.
In part 2, the focus turns to the media through which Romans communicated religious concepts across the Mediterranean oikoumene. After some remarks on the emergence of provincial religion and the conceptual tools one might bring to bear to its study (chapter 5), subsequent chapters examine the two-tiered model of religion reflected in the surviving sections of the lex Ursonensis (chapter 6), the distribution and exhibition of calendars during the Imperial period (chapter 7), and the heuristic value of the notion of “book religion” from the standpoint of communication theory (chapter 8). This last chapter’s sketch of how the rhythms and practices of book circulation shaped, and were in turn shaped by, Imperial religious culture will be of interest to scholars working on the history of the book in antiquity.
Part 3 kicks off with a chapter on religious competition and closes with a chapter on how empire changed religion and vice versa; the latter chapter does double duty as a sign-off for the work as a whole. In between stand four studies (chapters 10–13): the first scrutinizes religious pluralism in the Empire through the lens of the term religio; the second takes Tertullian as a point of departure for examining the discursive rewriting of Roman religion as “pagan” in Christian apologetics; the third tackles changes to the pontificate and other traditional priesthoods during the late Empire; and the fourth concentrates on visual worlds and their articulation of religious boundaries in the poetry of Juvencus, the Codex Calendar of 354, and the iconography of Christian catacombs. This last study would have benefited from discussion of the decorative programs at Dura Europos (for which see Jaś Elsner, “Cultural Resistance and the Visual Image: The Case of Dura Europos,” Classical Philology 96.3 , 269–304).
Rich in content and wide-ranging in scope, Rüpke’s work does not adopt (in fact it explicitly disavows) an encyclopedic or comprehensive narrative; one result is that at times the chapters read more as self-contained essays than as constitutive and mutually reinforcing elements of a monograph. Nor is it always clear why Rüpke pivots from one topic or...