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  • Brother-Making in Late Antiquity and Byzantium: Monks, Laymen, and Christian Ritual by Claudia Rapp
  • Albrecht Diem
Claudia Rapp Brother-Making in Late Antiquity and Byzantium: Monks, Laymen, and Christian Ritual Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016 Pp. viii + 349. $69.00.

Claudia Rapp returns to the debates caused by John Boswell's book, Same Sex Unions in Premodern Europe (1994). Boswell argued that the rituals of adelphopoiesis (brother-making) that could be found in various Byzantine [End Page 342] liturgical handbooks indicated that the Byzantine church recognized same-sex partnerships and developed rituals that placed them on the same level as marriages. Instead of simply criticizing Boswell's thesis as the product of a targeted reading and a misinterpretation of his source material, as many historians did, Rapp revisits the texts brought to light by Boswell and analyzes adelphopoiesis both in its liturgical context and its manifestation in narrative and legal sources. She develops two main theses: Adelphopoiesis played a crucial role in Byzantine society as an important social networking strategy; it is, both in its ritual and as a social practice, rooted in the late antique and early medieval forms of monastic life in small groups and in committed relationships between two monks bound in spiritual brotherhood.

Rapp approaches adelphopoiesis from a variety of perspectives. Chapter One places spiritual brotherhood within a broad spectrum of kinship and social relationships and their legal and theological ramifications, ranging from marriage and synteknia (godparenthood) to religious and secular confraternities, friendship relationships and committed same-sex relationships. As such, this chapter provides a highly accessible introduction to the social fabric of Byzantine society.

Chapter Two focuses on the material Boswell had brought to the attention of the scholarly world: rituals of brother-making that can be found in a large number of Byzantine liturgical handbooks, produced between the late eighth and the fifteenth centuries. Based on the manuscript dissemination, Rapp shows that liturgical confirmation of spiritual brotherhood was practiced throughout Byzantine history in all parts of the Empire. An analysis of the liturgical form and the place of adelphopoiesis disproves Boswell's thesis that brother-making received a significance analogous to marriage. Beyond the scope of the ritual itself, Chapter Two could serve as an introduction to Greek Orthodox liturgy and the history of liturgical handbooks.

Chapter Three, the center part of Rapp's monograph and almost a book in itself, forms a study on small-group monasticism in the late antique world. She shows that both small-scale communities of monks and committed relationships of spiritual couples played a prominent role within the varieties of late antique monastic life. Based on an analysis of Sayings of the Desert Fathers (Apophthegmata Patrum), monastic Historiae and hagiographical texts, but also archaeological and epigraphic evidence, Rapp challenges the paradigm that late antique monastic life was determined by the two prevalent models of eremitic and of rule-based coenobitic life. She shows how spiritual brotherhood was presented through a number of recurring narrative motifs, such as doing penance for one's brother's sins, dying at the same time, or being buried in the same tomb. Besides providing a new reading of the wealth of Apophthegmata, Rapp provides access to a number of exquisite hagiographic works lesser known outside Byzantine studies, such as the Life of Symeon the Fool and the History of the Great Deeds of Bishop Paul of Qentos and Priest John of Edessa. The chapter does not only support Rapp's argument that both brotherhood rituals and the social practice of spiritual brotherhood find their roots in monastic forms of life, but also forms in itself a fundamental contribution to the history of late antique and early medieval monasticism. [End Page 343]

Chapter Four shows on the basis of various narrative sources that spiritual brotherhood played an important role as an alternative or supplement to kinship relationships or as a means of connecting different groups in society, bridging socio-economic gaps or even religious boundaries on all levels of Byzantine society. This included the imperial court and diplomatic relationships beyond the boundaries of the Byzantine Empire.

Brotherhood relationships could, as Rapp shows in her last chapter, develop their significance because they...


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