Jörg Rüpke on early Christianity in 'Pantheon: A New History of Roman Religion'

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MrMacSon
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Re: Jörg Rüpke on early Christianity in 'Pantheon: A New History of Roman Religion'

Post by MrMacSon » Wed Aug 08, 2018 2:09 pm

John T wrote:
Wed Aug 08, 2018 10:00 am
My point is; the O.P. does not belong here on the Christian Text and History forum but rather the General Religious Discussion forum or even the Classical Texts and History forum.
I did consider another forum, but the commentary about Christianity (via the reviewer and the thus the author) was my focus and I thought that was enough to put it here (I included preamble for context for why Jörg Rüpke might have made the commentary about Christianity he has).

John T wrote:
Wed Aug 08, 2018 10:00 am
But to compare Mithraism to Christianity is as absurd as comparing Santa Claus to Jesus.
Which is not what I've done in the OP. If you want to make a fuss about a comment about an example of 'development of individuality, in religious communication' which 'stimulated practices [which] could lend verisimilitude to fictions' viz. -

The interest in historization, as we saw it in Marcion, was not only an interest in achieving orientation in a city or world that had become more complex. The development of individuality, in religious communication in particular, arose from and itself, in turn, stimulated practices whereby a personal experience, facilitated by ritual, could lend verisimilitude to fictions: “Here is the place where Mithras killed the bull”.

- then go and start another tread ...

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Re: Jörg Rüpke on early Christianity in 'Pantheon: A New History of Roman Religion'

Post by Ulan » Wed Aug 08, 2018 2:23 pm

John T wrote:
Wed Aug 08, 2018 4:58 am
If Jörg Rüpke any or any myticist has any real evidence other than wishful thinking I would like to see it.

To try to connect Mithraism to the origin of Christianity is just absurd, nay dishonest. :roll:
Prof. Rüpke is one of the worldwide leading experts on ancient Roman religion, which means I wouldn't dismiss him outright without checking the references. Then again, you seem to have read Guiseppe's quotes from a different source into the statement of Rüpke, which is beside the point.

Other than that, comparing religions is one of the major topics in the field of Religious Studies. Religions don't develop in a vacuum.

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Re: Jörg Rüpke on early Christianity in 'Pantheon: A New History of Roman Religion'

Post by DCHindley » Wed Aug 08, 2018 3:35 pm

Ulan wrote:
Wed Aug 08, 2018 2:23 pm
John T wrote:
Wed Aug 08, 2018 4:58 am
If Jörg Rüpke any or any myticist has any real evidence other than wishful thinking I would like to see it.

To try to connect Mithraism to the origin of Christianity is just absurd, nay dishonest. :roll:
Prof. Rüpke is one of the worldwide leading experts on ancient Roman religion, which means I wouldn't dismiss him outright without checking the references. Then again, you seem to have read Guiseppe's quotes from a different source into the statement of Rüpke, which is beside the point.

Other than that, comparing religions is one of the major topics in the field of Religious Studies. Religions don't develop in a vacuum.
IMHO, there is a difference between comparisons and equations. "All the Gods have 2 legs, just ask anyone, so anyone with two legs is thus a god." Of course that statement is baloney, but popular "History of Religion" type theories do seem to think that there are actually hidden universal truths in all myths made up by mankind. It is very Jungian in orientation. Jung thought that brain complexes had, over time, been "programmed" to rationalize explanations for the things seen, heard and experienced in certain predictable ways.

Despite being embraced by Freke & Gandy's The Jesus Mysteries, I do not think that Jung's opinions in this matter are seriously entertained anymore in Psychology. However, if you or anyone else would like to read my 2001 review of their 1999 book (posted on the Crosstalk2 e-list) see below:

It will be relevant to this discussion. And you are right, religions do not develop in a vacuum. I always refer interested parties to the Marxist and Monist theories about the origins of the Christ myth, as they have a very well researched theory that incorporates ancient religious myths being transformed by means of socio-economic pressures to produce Christianity as we know it, with smidgeons of (then) modern psychology and psychiatric theory mixed in.

While I am not convinced by their several theories, I tip my hat to them for making a valiant and serious effort at it. I do not think that modern popular mythicists come anywhere close to them in ingenuity and command of facts. BTW, I do not mean "Commie" writers, but serious Marxist writers (Karl Kautsky, Foundations of Christianity, German 1908 & 1923, ET 1953; Albert Kalthoff, none of his works were translated into English I don't believe, but Albert Schweitzer offers a comparison between Kalthoff's position compared to that of K Kautsky).

To compare modern theorists like E. Doherty and Richard Carrier with Marxist writers is revealing:

Date
K. Marx (Marxist, duh)
F. Engels (Marxist)
K. Kautsky (Marxist)
A. Kalthoff (Monist)
1842 1841-1842, Military year, joins Strauss' Young Hegelians in Berlin.
1844 "Notes on James Mill," 1844. Also "Economic and Philosophical Manuscripts," 1844 "The Condition of the Working Class in England" (1845, tr by Florence Kelley Wischnewetzky 1885) [Detailed description and analysis of the conditions of the working class in Britain during Engels' stay in Manchester and Salford, while working in the business office of a mill co-owned by his father. The rapid pace of change in England during the previous sixty years that had brought new ways of production, new ways of living, new classes of people; and the extraordinary upheaval in human relations within the new industrial working class, the proletariat. Machinery, the division of labor, and water power (especially in the form of steam) were the causal technology for the capitalist concentration and centralization of people and economic power.]
1845 "The Holy Family," 1845 [Co-author with Engles]. Also "Theses on Feuerbach," 1845. Also "The German Ideology," 1845 [co-authored with Engles] "The Holy Family," 1845, ET 1956, tr Richard Dixon & Clement Dutts. [A critique on the Young Hegelians and their trend of thought which was very popular in academic circles at the time. The "holy family" refers to Bruno Bauer and his younger brother Edgar, who were representative of Right-Hegelians.
1848 "Manifesto of the Communist Party," 1848 [co-authored with Engles] "Manifesto of the Communist Party" (1847-1848), written with Marx;
1862 "Theories of Surplus Value," 3 volumes, 1862-1863
1863 "Theories of Surplus Value," final vol. 1863
1864 Engles becomes a partner in the Manchester cotton thread mill he managed for his father. (1864)
1867 "Capital," Volume I (Das Kapital), 1867
1869 Engles retires from the Manchester mill. (1869)
1874 "The question of the metaphysical basis of morality, studied with special reference to Schleiermacher." (Dissertation), Halle 1874 [Friedrich Schleiermacher, d. 1834, known for his attempt to reconcile the criticisms of the Enlightenment with traditional Protestant orthodoxy. He also became influential in the evolution of Higher Criticism, and his work forms part of the foundation of the modern field of hermeneutics. Because of his profound impact on subsequent Christian thought, he is often called the "Father of Modern Liberal Theology."]
1875 Reassigned to a small country church due to conflicts with the Evangelical Lutheran Church leadership, and for holding Hegelian views critical to pietistic orthodoxy. (1875)
1878 "Speech in defense of the pastor, Dr. K .... against the prosecution of the Royal Consistory of the Province of Brandenburg." 1878. His ministerial license as a Lutheran minister was suspended.
1880 "The impact of population increase on the progress of society" 1880. "The life of Jesus. Speeches in the Protestant Reform Club in Berlin." Berlin 1880 [See Schweitzer's characterization of the very human Jesus there depicted by him, and the fact that Kalthoff later disavowed this kind of portrait.] Also "The latest measure to combat Judaism." 1880 [referring to German President Bismark's stoking of anti-Jewish sentiment for political ends.]
1882 "Bruno Bauer and Early Christianity," in Sozialdemokrat (1882) [Bauer's legacy - he died in April this year - was "he irrefutably proved the chronological order of the Gospels and their mutual interdependence, ... by the very contents of the Gospels themselves. ... And, if almost nothing from the whole content of the Gospels turns out to be historically provable — so that even the historical existence of a Jesus Christ can be questioned — Bauer has, thereby, only cleared the ground for the solution of the question: what is the origin of the ideas and thoughts that have been woven together into a sort of system in Christianity, and how came they to dominate the world?"]
1883 "Origins of Biblical Primitive History" in Kosmos (1883)
1884 """The Origin of the Family, Private Property, and the State."" 1884 (tr Alick West 1942) [An important and detailed seminal work connecting capitalism with what Engels argues is an ever-changing institution - the family. Contains a comprehensive historical view of the family in relation to the issues of class, female subjugation and private property.]
" Made pastor of a Reformed church near Basel.
1885 "Capital," Volume II (posthumously published by Engels), 1885 "Origins of Christianity" in Neue Zeit (1885)
1886 "Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy" (1886) [Feuerback was a German philosopher and anthropologist and associate of Left Hegelian circles. Politically liberal, an atheist and a materialist, many of his philosophical writings offered a critical analysis of Christianity, especially The Essence of Christianity (1841, 2nd ed, 1848, Tr. Marian Evans 1854 & 1881). His thought was influential in the development of dialectical materialism, where he is often recognized as a bridge between Hegel and Marx.]
1888 "The Office of NT.s. Inaugural sermon." Bremen 1888 [at his installation as 2nd minister at St. Martin's Churce in Bremen, a Reformed Church]
1890 "About anti-Semitism" (1890)
1892 "Charles Kingsley." 1892 [Kingsley, 1819-1843, Church of England parson, novelist, Christian Socialist, Protestant controversialist, 'muscular Christian,' poet, and amateur naturalist. … Kingsley moved onto the public stage in 1848 in response to the working class agitation that climaxed in the Chartist collapse of that year. As a result of his interest in the condition of the working classes, he joined with John Malcolm Ludlow, Frederick Denison Maurice, and others in forming the Christian Socialist movement. He was sympathetic to the idea of evolution and was one of the first to praise Charles Darwin's book On the Origin of Species in 1859. Kingsley also received letters from Thomas Huxley in 1860 and later in 1863, discussing Huxley's early ideas on agnosticism.]
1894 "Capital," Volume III (posthumously published by Engels), 1894 """The History of Early Christianity"" in Neue Zeit (1894). [He says that for Bauer ""the New Testament accounts of Jesus and his disciples are deprived ... of any historical background: they are diluted in legends in which the phases of interior development and the moral struggles of the first communities are transferred to more or less fictitious persons. Not Galilee and Jerusalem, but Alexandria and Rome, according to Bauer, are the birthplaces of the new religion.]
" Appointed 1st Minister at St Martins.
1895 "The Forerunners of Modern Socialism." vol 1, 1895. [Contains an analysis of "primitive Christian" development in a socio-economic perspective. Not a word about B. Bauer or Kalthoff, although he does credit Plato's utopian republic with setting the stage for later communistic societies, including Essenes and early Christianity.]
1897 "The Forerunners of Modern Socialism." vol 2, 1897.
1898 "At the turn of the century sermons about the social struggles of our time." Berlin 1898
1902 "The Social Revolution." 1902. "The Christ-problem. Baselines to a social theology." Leipzig 1902
1903 "D. Thikötter and the problem of Christ." Bremen 1903 [Dr. Julius Thikötter was a prolific Theological writer.] Also "Religious belief. Speeches," Leipzig 1903. Founded Bremen branch of the German Peace Society and served as its chairman.
1904 "The rise of Christianity. New contributions to the problem of Christ." Leipzig 1904. Also "What we know about Jesus? A statement by W. Bousset." Berlin 1904 [Wilhelm Bousset (1865-1920) was one of the pioneers in the Religionsgeschichtliche Schule or "History of Religions School," which established the scientific and comparative study of Hellenistic Judaism and Early Christianity.] Also "Zarathustra preaching. Talk about the moral conception of life of Friedrich Nietzsche." Jena 1904.
1905 "The religion of the moderns." Jena/Leipzig 1905. Also "School culture and government." Leipzig 1905
1906 "Modern Christianity." Berlin (undated, likely 1906). Seven Bremen area ministers file a Motion to remove him from his pastorship on charge of "athiesm." Dies same year.
1907 "The age of the Reformation. Posthumous Sermons. edited by F. Steudel," Jena 1907. Also "Future ideals. Posthumous Sermons. edited with a biographical introduction to life drawing by F. Steudel," Jena 1907
1908 "The origins of Christianity." 1908. [Mentions B. Bauer and A. Kalthoff's determination that we cannot really know the historical Jesus from the scant records available to us, only what the writers about him wanted him to be. However, Kautsky says we can learn something of the economic situation of the writers about Jesus. "From the inner life. Posthumous Sermons. edited by F. Steudel," Jena 1908

OK, some of this was "stolen" from Wikipedia. These works were quality stuff based on cutting edge (for the time) economic and cultural theories, not thrown together willy-nilly as we tend to do today.

DCH
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Re: Jörg Rüpke on early Christianity in 'Pantheon: A New History of Roman Religion'

Post by MrMacSon » Wed Aug 08, 2018 3:50 pm

I would prefer that people do not go off on wild tangents or down deep rabbit holes in this thread. This book is about the richness of Roman religious tradition in the lead-up to the development of Christianity: I would prefer the focus to be on that and what and how Jörg Rüpke seems to now think Christianity may have started.
In this ambitious and authoritative book, Jörg Rüpke provides a comprehensive and strikingly original narrative history of ancient Roman and Mediterranean religion over more than a millennium―from the late Bronze Age through the Roman imperial period and up to late antiquity ...

.. Pantheon fully integrates the many religious traditions found in the Mediterranean world, including Judaism and Christianity ...

Drawing on a vast range of literary and archaeological evidence, Pantheon shows how Roman religion shaped and was shaped by its changing historical contexts from the ninth century BCE to the fourth century CE ... the book treats religion as inseparable from political, social, economic, and cultural developments. The narrative emphasizes the diversity of Roman religion; offers a new view of central concepts such as “temple,” “altar,” and “votive” ... and much more.
... Rüpke starts out by offering a bare-bones working definition of religion as “the extension of a particular environment beyond the immediately plausible social milieu of living humans” ... What he calls “the immediately plausible” is the realm of interpersonally available observation and experience ... Religion involve[d] things beyond the directly seen and experienced, particularly the dead and the divine ...

... Priesthoods were increasingly formalized. Collective action in the form of public worship (vows and augury, for instance), banquets, and games developed. Rüpke downplays the idea of “civic religion.” On the one hand, he is right to emphasize that there was not a coherently organized pantheon, worshiped systematically by the Roman people. Religious affairs were ad hoc, the deities manifold and incongruent. On the other hand, throughout, Rüpke underestimates the binding power of communal religious practice in the Roman polity ...

... Religion swallowed philosophy. As the republic became the empire, the place of religion changed. Even apart from the rise of Christianity, the centuries of Roman imperial dominance might have been one of the most important, and certainly one of the most interesting, periods in the annals of religion. It was a heyday for the gods, both old and new. It has been a long time since the conventional wisdom held that Christianity emerged against a backdrop of spiritual despair, moral degeneration, or decrepit civic polytheism. Rather, Christianity grew up beside, and eventually displaced, a vibrant, fecund, and loud “paganism” that was by turns a model and a rival for the early Church.


“Christianity” is presented as a second-century confection. The heretic Marcion is credited with writing the first gospel, inspiring the reaction that we call the canonical Gospels. Any knowledge of Peter and Paul’s death is dismissed as pure myth. Paul is a figure mainly constructed as a totem of identity in the later second century. The Book of Acts is not just a romantic history but a wholesale historiographical fabrication. Until sometime in the second century, the Christians had “as yet no actual community.” The persecutions, the martyrdoms, were mostly the work of Christian imagination—a literary experiment that got way out of hand. In the second century of the Roman Empire, rival entrepreneurs such as Marcion and Irenaeus “invented” the Christianity we know.

... Rüpke builds his picture of early Christianity selectively ... the views of Markus Vinzent on Marcion and Otto Zwierlein on Peter.

.

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Re: Jörg Rüpke on early Christianity in 'Pantheon: A New History of Roman Religion'

Post by DCHindley » Wed Aug 08, 2018 4:55 pm

I'm not sure if you were referring to me or to JohnT, but I will cite one of the less glowing reviews:
MrMacSon wrote:
Tue Aug 07, 2018 9:22 pm
Kyle Harper wrote:... Early Christianity winds in and out of the last chapters of the book. But, unless it is your professional obligation to stay current with the latest one-­upmanship of hypercriticism in the field, the early Christianity presented here will not seem recognizable.

“Christianity” is presented as a second-century confection. The heretic Marcion is credited with writing the first gospel, inspiring the reaction that we call the canonical Gospels. Any knowledge of Peter and Paul’s death is dismissed as pure myth. Paul is a figure mainly constructed as a totem of identity in the later second century. The Book of Acts is not just a romantic history but a wholesale historiographical fabrication. Until sometime in the second century, the Christians had “as yet no actual community.” The persecutions, the martyrdoms, were mostly the work of Christian imagination—a literary experiment that got way out of hand. In the second century of the Roman Empire, rival entrepreneurs such as Marcion and Irenaeus “invented” the Christianity we know.

In a work of authoritative scholarship, this presentation is unwelcome—and revealing. Rüpke builds his picture of early Christianity selectively, or rather exclusively, on ideas at the edge of scholarly respectability. For instance, he presents without context or qualification the views of Markus Vinzent on Marcion and Otto Zwierlein on Peter. Other important recent work on these same figures, for example by Dieter Roth and Markus Bockmuehl, which undercuts the most sensational reconstructions, is damned to the oblivion of missing bibliography. To be fair, it is a big field, or collection of fields —where Roman religion, New Testament studies, Roman history, and early Christian studies meet— and no one can read everything, especially in a synthesis of this magnitude. Still, to cite a work on the Petrine traditions (Zwierlein’s Petrus in Rom) that the Roman historian T. D. Barnes recently called “a nadir in historical criticism” (in his contribution to the volume Peter in Early Christianity) as though it were simply the state of play in the study of early Christianity does a disservice.

This imbalance leaves us without a real sense of how ­Christianity emerged from the matrix that Rüpke has ably presented. ...

Had he not indulged dubious theories of early Christianity, Rüpke could have brought us a little closer to answering important and enduring questions with fresh illumination. How did Christianity emerge from the volatile spiritual milieu of the Roman Empire? Why did the city of Rome exert such a gravitational pull on the early Christian movement? Why did it matter that a Judeo-Greek religion triumphed, paradoxically, both because of the cultural resources in the capital and despite the hostile suppression of the religion by the imperial power? To answer those questions would indeed be to account for how religio became religion.
The section I colorized relates exactly to what I feel Freke & Gandy were themselves doing when they subjected the sources they collected very diligently to analysis. It is not an easy thing to make sense out of nonsense. I think it requires a certain amount of social theory to *actually* offer a serious explanation that incorporates the biggest portion of ancient "facts."

But Jungian 'collective conscience' ideas have enjoyed little, if any, scientific validation, so we have to look deeper for social theory that wraps things up, rather than advocates what we would like to have happened.

DCH
Last edited by DCHindley on Thu Aug 09, 2018 3:33 am, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Jörg Rüpke on early Christianity in 'Pantheon: A New History of Roman Religion'

Post by robert j » Wed Aug 08, 2018 5:28 pm

(Deleted)

Point made? Time will tell.
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Re: Jörg Rüpke on early Christianity in 'Pantheon: A New History of Roman Religion'

Post by MrMacSon » Wed Aug 08, 2018 5:48 pm

DCHindley wrote:
Wed Aug 08, 2018 4:55 pm
It is not an easy thing to make sense out of nonsense. I think it requires a certain amount of social theory to *actually* offer a serious explanation that incorporates the biggest portion of ancient "facts."
Sure, and you are right to point out
Kyle Harper wrote:
... Early Christianity winds in and out of the last chapters of the book. But, unless it is your professional obligation to stay current with the latest one-­upmanship of hypercriticism in the field, the early Christianity presented here will not seem recognizable.

< . . . snip from DCH's quoted text . . . >

In a work of authoritative scholarship, this presentation is unwelcome—and revealing. Rüpke builds his picture of early Christianity selectively, or rather exclusively, on ideas at the edge of scholarly respectability. For instance, he presents without context or qualification the views of Markus Vinzent on Marcion and Otto Zwierlein on Peter ..
I left that in for fairness.

but I think Harper is throwing the toys from his cot when he wrote this -
Kyle Harper wrote: Other important recent work on these same figures, for example by Dieter Roth and Markus Bockmuehl, which undercuts the most sensational reconstructions, is damned to the oblivion of missing bibliography.
-- I'm not sure Dieter Roth and Markus Bockmuehl offer reconstructions of early Christian origins.


DCHindley wrote:
Wed Aug 08, 2018 4:55 pm

I'm not sure if you were referring to me or to JohnT ..

The section I colorized relates exactly to what I feel Freke & Gandy were themselves doing when they subjected the sources they collected very diligently to analysis.
I'm intrigued with your comparison with what Freke & Gandy were doing ...

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Re: Jörg Rüpke on early Christianity in 'Pantheon: A New History of Roman Religion'

Post by MrMacSon » Wed Aug 08, 2018 5:54 pm

robert j wrote:
Wed Aug 08, 2018 5:28 pm
... There's no MrMacSon yet invested here. All you have done so far is to cut-and-paste the ideas of others --- what others have written.
There's both. I post things like this openly. I would have thought it was pretty clear I was interested in
  1. the foundation that Rüpke had laid for Roman societies and religion before the development of Christianity, and
  2. Rüpke's apparent focus on the views of Markus Vinzent on Marcion and Otto Zwierlein on Peter.
I wondered about getting the book and posting about it's propositions, but I thought the views of Harper were worth noting, too.

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Re: Jörg Rüpke on early Christianity in 'Pantheon: A New History of Roman Religion'

Post by MrMacSon » Wed Aug 08, 2018 6:03 pm

DCHindley wrote:
Wed Aug 08, 2018 3:35 pm

... popular "History of Religion" type theories do seem to think that there are actually hidden universal truths in all myths made up by mankind. It is very Jungian in orientation ...

Despite being embraced by Freke & Gandy's The Jesus Mysteries, I do not think that Jung's opinions in this matter are seriously entertained anymore in Psychology. However, if you or anyone else would like to read my 2001 review of their 1999 book (posted on the Crosstalk2 e-list) see [above^^^]

It will be relevant to this discussion. And you are right, religions do not develop in a vacuum. I always refer interested parties to the Marxist and Monist theories about the origins of the Christ myth, as they have a very well researched theory that incorporates ancient religious myths being transformed by means of socio-economic pressures to produce Christianity as we know it, with smidgeons of (then) modern psychology and psychiatric theory mixed in.

While I am not convinced by their several theories, I tip my hat to them for making a valiant and serious effort at it. I do not think that modern popular mythicists come anywhere close to them in ingenuity and command of facts. BTW, I do not mean "Commie" writers, but serious Marxist writers (Karl Kautsky, Foundations of Christianity, German 1908 & 1923, ET 1953; Albert Kalthoff, none of his works were translated into English I don't believe, but Albert Schweitzer offers a comparison between Kalthoff's position compared to that of K Kautsky).

To compare modern theorists like E. Doherty and Richard Carrier with Marxist writers is revealing [see table above^^^]
Cheers. But note the main thing I'm interested in is Rüpke framing the development of Christianity as Vinzent has [and others have].

I think framing the development of Christianity in the time period that Vinzent and others have, and after the two Roman-Jewish Wars, makes sense, especially in terms of the foundation that Rüpke has laid down.

I guess we'll need to discuss what Rüpke says about the development of Christianity directly.

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Re: Jörg Rüpke on early Christianity in 'Pantheon: A New History of Roman Religion'

Post by MrMacSon » Thu Aug 09, 2018 1:04 am

XI Notional and Real Communities

THE FIRST TO THIRD CENTURIES AD

SINCE THE HELLENISTIC AGE, it had become increasingly common for people living in the cities of the Mediterranean to join together in societies; during the first two centuries of the Roman Empire, this trend further intensified and expanded beyond the Hellenistic cultural space. Individuals combined together most readily when they shared professional interests, whether as artisans in a particular trade in their home city, or as merchants of common origin in far-flung places. So the “clubs” of the elite, which had often been organized in the form of priesthoods, were now paralleled by thiasoi and collegia that met occasionally for festive meals, and often guaranteed their members a suitable burial on the basis of subscriptions. The expansion of the artisanal and mercantile trades, which underpinned economic growth, also increased social differentiation, and those who benefitted from higher status, once their gains were secured, might aspire to preserve that new status beyond the grave.1

Those who organized themselves in this way were not members of minorities. In Pompeii, about a quarter of the adult population, mainly but not exclusively male, may have been organized in collegia with memberships of between fifteen and two hundred.2 These were private groups only in appearance. They were able to acquire special legal status, and, from the time of Marcus Aurelius [r. 161 to 180 AD/CE, best known for his Meditations on Stoic philosophy] at the latest, were registered. As organizations of members employed in the same trade, they undertook to safeguard their own interests along the same lines as medieval guilds.3 When such interests were at stake, formal distinctions of status between free individuals, freed men and women, and even slaves, might be secondary. To members, it was likely more important to have a presence in a city’s public space, and to be recognized by virtue of their group status. This might be achieved by holding a festive banquet in public, such as was organized in the early 130s in Lavinium near Rome by the collegium of the worshippers (cultores) of Diana and the only recently deified Antinous.4 To the same end, groups cultivated associations with the emperor or with important local cults.

As an alternative to renting public space, such as the dining halls attached to temples,5 some groups built and maintained their own buildings, which provided them with constant visibility.6 As, however, they normally met only a few times in the year, at most monthly, such an undertaking was more a bid for prestige than a practical necessity. A frequent precondition was, of course, an enormous degree of engagement on the part of patrons. All in all, collegia were intermediary organizations that strengthened local integration into the third century AD.7 ...


1. Textual Communities

An initial question: what role did reading and writing play in religious groups?12 It is in the second and third centuries AD that we find authors of numerous texts formulating polemics that appear to delineate boundaries between groups, and thus to prepare the ground for group formation. There was evidently competition between groups that found expression in claims of exclusivity. On the one hand, rigid positions adopted in a bid for members do not necessarily indicate a background of sustained conflict with other groups.13 On the other hand, too much competition was regarded as problematic, as Philostratus makes clear in the picture he paints of the biographies of various “sophists.”14 But did these texts belong to such “societies” as we are discussing here?

Some of the texts became foundational, at least in the context of the religious and intellectual history of Europe, and to some extent they continue to color our perceptions of the religious “other” to the present day. This applies not only to the New Testament canon, but also to heresiological works. As a second-order observation, such a work as Irenaeus’s Adversus haereses: Élenchos kaì anatropé tês pseudônúmou gnóseôs (Examination and rebuttal of gnosis falsely so called), in its Latin translation, was a source of religious-historical classifications into the Early Modern Period ...

... often sheer rivalry and an uncomfortable convergence of opinion that led [heresiographical authors] to manufacture the profound disagreements described in these texts.17 Some processes of systematic rhetorical exclusion often had social consequences. This was the case with the entourage of the visionary Montanus in Asia Minor in the second century AD, characterized by the label “Montanist” and then treated accordingly in terms of exclusions and polemics.18 The formation of a community based on a common text was, however, no simple process. It rested on long-term reading in common, and the formation of common modes of interpretation shaped by that reading.19 It began with the basic elements, texts themselves in their material form, and their mediation within a communicative process.

In the scriptographic cultures of antiquity, where the only means of duplication was copying by hand, each book was a unique entity. There is no doubt that there was commercial production and distribution of books from the early Imperial Age onward, relying on dictation to a number of slaves writing simultaneously, and that there was a book trade. The percentage of texts disseminated in this way may, however, have been negligible, perhaps confined to a few fashionable authors.20 More vital was dissemination by means of dedications, and subsequently by the dedicatees themselves, and within circles of acquaintanceship,21 potentially making available the entire libraries of participants in such circles.

Any collector, publisher, or mere writer of letters would not be interested purely in personal recipients. He would more likely be aiming at an anonymous public, or at delivery aloud to a particular circle of recipients. In the early second century AD, the so-called second and third Epistles of John point to the problems involved in controlling the recitation space, perhaps by forbidding visitors to read aloud. While the second epistle portrays the good group, which effectively communicates its faith, the third, formally addressed to only a single member, Gaius, describes the bad group:
  • I have written something to the church, but Diotrephes, who likes to put himself first, does not acknowledge our authority. So if I come, I will bring up what he is doing, talking wicked nonsense against us. And not content with that, he refuses to welcome the brothers, and also stops those who want to and puts them out of the church.28
Finally there were intellectual contests, debates between professionals who lived by public polemic. Antagonists both male and female29 confronted one another in Rome, Athens, Antioch, and Alexandria, the Empire’s chief intellectual centers,30 and the subjects of their debates included religious knowledge as a sub-section of philosophical discourse. Rhodon, a pupil of Tatian, illustrates this when, in works subsequently cited by Eusebius, he gives an exhaustive account of a discussion with Apelles.31 Galen compared the arguments of Moses and Plato as if they were known to all present.32 The new texts that recorded these intense debates were perhaps a pot pourri of earlier materials.

Listeners remembered what they had read, and writers what they had heard (fig. 63). Written texts and oral presentations influenced one another. Publilius Syrus’s collection of aphorisms of the first century AD relied on his vivid memory of his success as a mime in the second half of the first century BC. At about this same period, Cornutus’s interpretations of myths and allegories similarly functioned only when viewed against a background of narratives that were common knowledge, remembered and reactualized in a mutually dependent relationship with the images concerned ...

Rüpke, Jörg. Pantheon: A New History of Roman Religion (pp. 327-332). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.

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