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Reviewed by:
  • Epiphanius of Cyprus: A Cultural Biography of Late Antiquity by Andrew Jacobs
  • Blossom Stefaniw
Andrew Jacobs
Epiphanius of Cyprus: A Cultural Biography of Late Antiquity
Oakland: University of California Press, 2016 Pp. 352. $95.00.

On p. 151 In the review of Andrew Jacobs's book, the title currently reads Epiphanius of Salamis: A Cultural Biography of Late Antiquity but actually, "Salamis" here should read "Cyprus".

On p. 153, At the start of the second full paragraph author references "Chapter Five” but it should be "Chapter Four."

The online version has been updated.

Who was Epiphanius, and what is late antiquity? This book supplies new answers to both of these questions. Indeed, it provides a better, more plausible, and corrected answer to the latter by means of careful attention to the former, very elegantly treating the problem of Epiphanius as a problem of the historiography of late antiquity (4).

Epiphanius has a clear profile among scholars and students as a cantankerous blowhard addicted to conflict and hell-bent on rousting out Origenism and any number of other real or imagined heresies. For American scholars, his writings are akin to the paranoid vitriol of a Joseph McCarthy, and our rejection of his [End Page 151] person and our resistance to seeing any value in his positions are part of our identity as educated and liberal people, akin to our disgruntlement at conservative uncles’ comments over Thanksgiving dinner.

While Jacobs does not connect scholarly perception of Epiphanius to American political culture, he does, sure-handedly and with considerable tenacity, correct an entrenched mistake in the scholarly map of early Christianity. He does this by correcting the received account of what sort of a person Epiphanius was and where he stood in relation to the larger structures of fourth- and fifth-century religious discourse. He then uses his newly established account of Epiphanius to adjust our model of what late antiquity is as a whole. Jacobs seeks to re-position Epiphanius, moving him from the nasty-old-man margin to the theological celebrity center. He also seeks to correct the standard (Brownian) account of late antiquity as a time of free-flowing transformation and openness with a portrait of an era very much shaped by empire and by a sense of the Other as troubling and requiring masterful attention and control. Both of these interventions are highly valuable and, in my opinion, precisely and accurately executed.

Despite its violent language, Jacobs reads the Panarion as primarily concerned “to craft a way of understanding difference, to show mastery over it, to incorporate it . . . into a totalizing Christian world.” This stance belongs to “a particularly Roman imperial attention to otherness and difference: a focus on management and incorporation, rather than eradication and destruction, of ‘others.’” (7). This is an important and much neglected point. There are other stances to take toward otherness besides the opposite poles of eradication and embrace. Jacobs diagnoses in Epiphanius a stance that is entirely normal for the period, namely one of vigilance and totalizing, but one that is aimed at controlling and defining the other more than at purging it entirely from the imperial taxonomy.

In order to achieve these two interventions, Jacobs addresses a chapter each to examining core concepts in the religious discourse of late antiquity and articulating how Epiphanius fit into them. These are: celebrity, conversion, discipline, scripture, and salvation. In each, Jacobs makes additional significant corrections to our model of religious life in late antiquity.

In Chapter One, Jacobs uses the notion of celebrity (drawing, as in many of the individual chapters, on contemporary theory from other disciplines) to enable a functional approach to authority and status, asking what authority does and what its effects are, rather than where it comes from (32). Celebrity, unlike authority, can be treated less as a trait and more as a transient reflection of a certain historical moment, a groove or fit achieved between an individual and a social environment because of that individual’s perceived ability to embody or express the concerns or ideals of that particular social world. As Jacobs applies this to Epiphanius, it becomes clear that Epiphanius spoke loudly and clearly to three...


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pp. 151-154
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