Transformation of the Classical Heritage

Published by: University of California Press

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Transformation of the Classical Heritage

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Constantine and the Captive Christians of Persia

Martyrdom and Religious Identity in Late Antiquity

Kyle Smith

It is widely believed that the Emperor Constantine’s conversion to Christianity politicized religious allegiances, dividing the Christian Roman Empire from the Zoroastrian Sasanian Empire and leading to the persecution of Christians in Persia. This account, however, is based on Greek ecclesiastical histories and Syriac martyrdom narratives that date to centuries after the fact. In this groundbreaking study, Kyle Smith analyzes diverse Greek, Latin, and Syriac sources to show that there was not a single history of fourth-century Mesopotamia. By examining the conflicting hagiographical and historical evidence, Constantine and the Captive Christians of Persia presents an evocative and evolving portrait of the first Christian emperor, uncovering how Syriac Christians manipulated the image of their western Christian counterparts to fashion their own political and religious identities during this century of radical change.

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Encountering the Sacred

The Debate on Christian Pilgrimage in Late Antiquity

Brouria Bitton-Ashkelony

This innovative study sheds new light on one of the most spectacular changes to occur in late antiquity—the rise of pilgrimage all over the Christian world—by setting the phenomenon against the wide background of the political and theological debates of the time. Asking how the emerging notion of a sacred geography challenged the leading intellectuals and ecclesiastical authorities, Brouria Bitton-Ashkelony deftly reshapes our understanding of early Christian mentalities by unraveling the process by which a territory of grace became a territory of power.

Examining ancient writers' responses to the rising practice of pilgrimage, Bitton-Ashkelony offers a nuanced reading of their thinking on the merits and the demerits of pilgrimage, revealing theological and ecclesiastical motivations that have been overlooked, and questioning the long-held assumption of scholars that pilgrimage was only a popular, not an elite, religious practice. In addition to Greek and Latin sources, she includes Syriac material, which allows her to build a rich picture of the emerging theology of landscape that took shape over the fourth to sixth centuries.

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Gregory the Great

Perfection in Imperfection

Carole Straw

Gregory I (590-604) is often considered the first medieval pope and the first exponent of a truly medieval spirituality. Carole Straw places Gregory in his historical context and considers the many facets of his personality—monk, preacher, and pope—in order to elucidate the structure of his thought and present a unified, thematic interpretation of his spiritual concerns.

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Holy Bishops in Late Antiquity

The Nature of Christian Leadership in an Age of Transition

Claudia Rapp

Between 300 and 600, Christianity experienced a momentous change from persecuted cult to state religion. One of the consequences of this shift was the evolution of the role of the bishop—as the highest Church official in his city—from model Christian to model citizen. Claudia Rapp's exceptionally learned, innovative, and groundbreaking work traces this transition with a twofold aim: to deemphasize the reign of the emperor Constantine, which has traditionally been regarded as a watershed in the development of the Church as an institution, and to bring to the fore the continued importance of the religious underpinnings of the bishop's role as civic leader.

Rapp rejects Max Weber’s categories of "charismatic" versus "institutional" authority that have traditionally been used to distinguish the nature of episcopal authority from that of the ascetic and holy man. Instead she proposes a model of spiritual authority, ascetic authority and pragmatic authority, in which a bishop’s visible asceticism is taken as evidence of his spiritual powers and at the same time provides the justification for his public role. In clear and graceful prose, Rapp provides a wholly fresh analysis of the changing dynamics of social mobility as played out in episcopal appointments.

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Homer the Theologian

Neoplatonist Allegorical Reading and the Growth of the Epic Tradition

Robert Lamberton

Here is the first survey of the surviving evidence for the growth, development, and influence of the Neoplatonist allegorical reading of the Iliad and Odyssey. Professor Lamberton argues that this tradition of reading was to create new demands on subsequent epic and thereby alter permanently the nature of European epic. The Neoplatonist reading was to be decisive in the birth of allegorical epic in late antiquity and forms the background for the next major extension of the epic tradition found in Dante.

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The Legend of Mar Qardagh

Narrative and Christian Heroism in Late Antique Iraq

Joel Walker

This pioneering study uses an early seventh-century Christian martyr legend to elucidate the culture and society of late antique Iraq. Translated from Syriac into English here for the first time, the legend of Mar Qardagh introduces a hero of epic proportions whose characteristics confound simple classification. During the several stages of his career, Mar Qardagh hunts like a Persian King, argues like a Greek philosopher, and renounces his Zoroastrian family to live with monks high in the mountains of Iraqi Kurdistan. Drawing on both literary and artistic sources, Joel Walker explores the convergence of these diverse themes in the Christian culture of the Sasanian Empire (224-642). Taking the Qardagh legend as its foundation, his study guides readers through the rich and complex world of late antique Iraq.

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The Matter of the Gods

Religion and the Roman Empire

Clifford Ando

What did the Romans know about their gods? Why did they perform the rituals of their religion, and what motivated them to change those rituals? To these questions Clifford Ando proposes simple answers: In contrast to ancient Christians, who had faith, Romans had knowledge, and their knowledge was empirical in orientation. In other words, the Romans acquired knowledge of the gods through observation of the world, and their rituals were maintained or modified in light of what they learned. After a preface and opening chapters that lay out this argument about knowledge and place it in context, The Matter of the Gods pursues a variety of themes essential to the study of religion in history.

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Merovingian Mortuary Archaeology and the Making of the Early Middle Ages

Bonnie Effros

Clothing, jewelry, animal remains, ceramics, coins, and weaponry are among the artifacts that have been discovered in graves in Gaul dating from the fifth to eighth century. Those who have unearthed them, from the middle ages to the present, have speculated widely on their meaning. This authoritative book makes a major contribution to the study of death and burial in late antique and early medieval society with its long overdue systematic discussion of this mortuary evidence. Tracing the history of Merovingian archaeology within its cultural and intellectual context for the first time, Effros exposes biases and prejudices that have colored previous interpretations of these burial sites and assesses what contemporary archaeology can tell us about the Frankish kingdoms.

Working at the intersection of history and archaeology, and drawing from anthropology and art history, Effros emphasizes in particular the effects of historical events and intellectual movements on French and German antiquarian and archaeological studies of these grave goods. Her discussion traces the evolution of concepts of nationhood, race, and culture and shows how these concepts helped shape an understanding of the past. Effros then turns to contemporary multidisciplinary methodologies and finds that we are still limited by the types of information that can be readily gleaned from physical and written sources of Merovingian graves. For example, since material evidence found in the graves of elite families and particularly elite men is more plentiful and noteworthy, mortuary goods do not speak as directly to the conditions in which women and the poor lived.

The clarity and sophistication with which Effros discusses the methods and results of European archaeology is a compelling demonstration of the impact of nationalist ideologies on a single discipline and of the struggle toward the more pluralistic vision that has developed in the post-war years.

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Mirage of the Saracen

Christians and Nomads in the Sinai Peninsula in Late Antiquity

Walter D. Ward

The Mirage of the Saracen analyzes the growth of monasticism and Christian settlements in the Sinai Peninsula through the early seventh century CE. Walter D. Ward examines the ways in which Christian monks justified occupying the Sinai through creating associations between Biblical narratives and Sinai sites while assigning uncivilized, negative, and oppositional traits to the indigenous nomadic population, whom the Christians pejoratively called "Saracens." By writing edifying tales of hostile nomads and the ensuing martyrdom of the monks, Christians not only reinforced their claims to the spiritual benefits of asceticism but also also provoked the Roman authorities to enhance defense of pilgrimage routes to the Sinai. When Muslim armies later began conquering the Middle East, Christians also labeled these new conquerors as Saracens, connecting Muslims to these pre-Islamic representations. This timely and relevant work builds a historical account of interreligious encounters in the ancient world, showing the Sinai as a crucible for forging long-lasting images of both Christians and Muslims, some of which endure today.

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Missionary Stories and the Formation of the Syriac Churches

Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent

Missionary Stories and the Formation of the Syriac Churches analyzes the hagiographic traditions of seven missionary saints in the Syriac heritage during late antiquity: Thomas, Addai, Mari, John of Ephesus, Simeon of Beth Arsham, Jacob Baradaeus, and Ahudemmeh. Jeanne-Nicole Mellon Saint-Laurent studies a body of legends about the missionaries’ voyages in the Syrian Orient to illustrate their shared symbols and motifs. Revealing how these texts encapsulated the concerns of the communities that produced them, she draws attention to the role of hagiography as a malleable genre that was well-suited for the idealized presentation of the beginnings of Christian communities. Hagiographers, through their reworking of missionary themes, asserted autonomy, orthodoxy, and apostolicity for their individual civic and monastic communities, positioning themselves in relationship to the rulers of their empires and to competing forms of Christianity. Saint-Laurent argues that missionary hagiography is an important and neglected source for understanding the development of the East and West Syriac ecclesiastical bodies: the Syrian Orthodox Church and the Church of the East. Given that many of these Syriac-speaking churches remain today in the Middle East and India, with diaspora communities in Europe and North America, this work opens the door for further study of the role of saints and stories as symbolic links between ancient and modern traditions.

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