- Christianizing Asia Minor: Conversion, Communities, and Social Change in the Pre-Constantinian Era by Paul McKechnie
Christianizing Asia Minor: Conversion, Communities, and Social Change in the Pre-Constantinian Era
Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2019
Pp. 332. $99.99.
More and more studies explore the processes of Christianization in Asia Minor, and we are grateful to Paul McKechnie for having set an important milestone in this field. It is not the first time that the author has contributed to the discussion, as his survey about Christian city councilors is well-known (Interdisciplinary Journal of Research on Religion 5 : 1–20). The title of his new book may be a little misleading as it does not treat all of Asia Minor, but focuses only a [End Page 341] small part, Phrygia and its “mixed urban-rural communities” (16). Explaining the religious developments, McKechnie refers to an idea drafted by P. L. Berger: the shift of the “sacred canopy” spread out over the territories controlled by the Romans (88, 196, 246).
Chapter One focuses on Colossae: the Pauline Epistle to the Colossians is one of the central sources, and a pivotal question regards the kind of philosophy the author assails. There is every reason to suppose the Epistle was reacting to a complex texture of Greek, Phrygian, and Jewish traditions. In connection with this discussion, McKechnie provides a consistent sketch of the development of Jewish communities in Phrygia, underpinned by some instructive considerations of Talmudic evidence. As always he is very cautious about dividing the different religious identities too sharply: sometimes it is impossible to distinguish Jewish from Christian epitaphs.
Chapter Two (“Hierapolis”) takes a look at one of the best-known towns in Phrygia. Here, McKechnie draws the line of Christian authority from Philippus, who came together with his daughters from Palestine to the Lycus Valley, further on to Papias and Apollinarius in the time of Marcus Aurelius. He makes some persuasive points in his reconstruction of a network of bishops in the province of Asia, but it remains doubtful whether they really belonged to the same kinship group (Eusebius, H.E. 5.24.6: συγγενεῖς) or were based in Hierapolis (59–61).
Chapter Three, “Teachers of Asia: Ignatius, Polycarp, Paul and Thecla,” turns to Iconium and Pisidian Antioch as important scenes of action. The Acts of Paul and Thecla are rooted in inner Anatolia, and McKechnie is right to emphasize the author’s local knowledge. Polycarp’s Smyrnaean martyrdom and Ignatius’s epistles on the other hand rather illuminate the coastal zones of Asia Minor.
Chapters Four and Five trace the development of Montanism: neither the biography of its founder is clear, nor the details of topography and chronology. Montanus came from the prophetical tradition one could observe among the earliest Christians. Integrating the first Christian epitaphs from Temenothyrae into Montanist evidence (132–38) may not convince everyone: the “presbytera” mentioned on one of them could even have belonged to a Christian movement opposing to the Montanists (S. Mitchell in P. Thonemann, ed., Roman Phrygia [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013], 168–97; challenged by McKechnie,144–46).
Chapters Six and Seven examine the testimonies about Aberkios, bishop of Phrygian Hieropolis under Marcus Aurelius. McKechnie’s remarks on his famous epitaph and the biblical echoes found in this text are highly illuminating. The opinion that Aberkios is to be identified with Avercius Marcellus, mentioned as anti-Montanist by Eusebius (H.E. 5.16.3), may be contested, but McKechnie is certainly right in explaining parts of the inscription in terms of its Montanist background (158–60). As always with hagiography, the historical evaluation of the Vita Abercii poses a lot of problems. It is significant that McKechnie submits the first English translation of this interesting text (263–87). There are a lot of details in the Vita explained by McKechnie in an excellent way, but taking the Acta Petri and their alleged influence on the Vita Abercii as a base for dating the latter (169–70) seems unconvincing. [End Page 342]
Chapter Eight is about Apollonia in the Phrygo-Pisidian borderlands. McKechnie pinpoints one of the leading families during the time of Augustus, and he can...