Jörg Rüpke's Pantheon: A New History of Roman Religion, Feb. 2018
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. While focused primarily on the city of Rome, Pantheon fully integrates the many religious traditions found in the Mediterranean world, including Judaism and Christianity. This generously illustrated book is also distinguished by its unique emphasis on lived religion, a perspective that stresses how individuals’ experiences and practices transform religion into something different from its official form. The result is a radically new picture of both Roman religion and a crucial period in Western religion ―one that influenced Judaism, Christianity, Islam, and even the modern idea of religion itself.
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. Because religion was not a distinct sphere in the Roman world, 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”; reassesses the gendering of religious practices; and much more.
Throughout, Pantheon draws on the insights of modern religious studies, but without “modernizing” ancient religion. With its unprecedented scope and innovative approach, Pantheon is an unparalleled account of ancient Roman and Mediterranean religion.
https://www.amazon.com/Pantheon-New-His ... 0691156832
A review of a translation of Jörg Rüpke's Pantheon: A New History of Roman Religion, 2018 by Kyle Harper; in two parts -
Rüpke covers more or less the same ground as Augustine: the beliefs, practices, and media of Roman religion from its obscure Iron Age origins down to the cosmopolitan period of empire. But unlike the bishop of Hippo, Rüpke never assumes that there is, fundamentally, any such thing as Roman religion. Like most recent work in the field, the study is anti-essentializing. There is no quintessential nature of Roman religion, stretching across time and space, genre and medium. Even defining “religion” in neutral terms not subtly colored by Christian assumptions is a delicate challenge. Religio is a Latin word; it meant something like the actions and observances that accompany a properly reverent sense of piety. Religio did not mean anything quite as grand or encompassing as the interlocking systems of belief about the cosmos, the fate of the soul, the totality of ethics, the nature of divinity, and the right worship of the gods. If the Pew Research Center asked an ancient Roman what his religio was, only a befuddled look would have followed. To a large extent, the work of bundling the disparate parts of human activity and imagination that we think of as religion into a system happened in the Roman world. Religion in this larger sense is a product of history, and specifically the history of the Roman Empire.
... 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,” and some version of this leaden but precise phrase recurs throughout the book. What he calls “the immediately plausible” is the realm of interpersonally available observation and experience, what we might call (in terms of a post-Newtonian universe) “nature.” Religion involves things beyond the directly seen and experienced, particularly the dead and the divine (that which a modern person might call the “supernatural”).
... Roman religion, and our knowledge of it, begins to change toward the later archaic age and in the centuries of the early republic.
Giant monumental temples went up. Interaction with the east (in the form of selective appropriation, rather than passive reception) became an integral part of Italian religious culture. 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. For the Greek observer Polybius, writing in the second century before Christ, it was “in things concerning the gods” that, above all else, the Roman republic was distinctive. Religious fear or superstition (deisidaimonia) was “what holds the Roman state together.” Of course, Polybius added, religion was useful in channeling the passions of the common people. But in ancient polytheism generally, and the Roman version of it particularly, religion and politics were inextricable. The Roman people worshiped the Roman gods, and they did so with an exactitude and a punctiliousness that stood out.
... 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 was not a weed that spread in a burned-out field. Its success in the prolific garden of the early empire has therefore become harder to explain.
The long reign of Augustus—a conservative revolutionary—was transformational in unpredicted ways. He claimed to revive and restore the old customs, while concentrating religious authority in his person and his family. But in doing so, he undercut the already fragile power of the traditional aristocracy. Religious authority was always a diffuse and dynamic property in Roman society. Rüpke calls attention to recent work that has highlighted the centrality of prayer to ancient Mediterranean religion, especially in Rome ...
The sociology of the Roman Empire was decisive. Its bustling roads and sea routes were a network of religious knowledge and practice, creating what Rüpke calls “new propinquities” that generated religious energy ... The old public temples thrived, but there were also new kinds of private religious associations, from collegia that were in essence collective burial societies to mystery religions, such as the cult of Isis, that answered the need for tightly knit communities of worship in cities that were giant demographic sinks and therefore full of migrants.
In some ways the most representative text of mature Roman polytheism is Apuleius’s novel The Golden Ass. The only complete Latin novel to survive from antiquity, it is the work of a North African of the second century who was equally devoted to Platonism as a philosophy and the worship of Isis as a mode of religious life. The story is an allegory of religious salvation ...
... 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.
https://www.amazon.com/Pantheon-New-His ... 0691156832
eta: Some of what Rupke specifically says is in this later post in this thread
[edited] Harper goes on -
Harper then mostly poisons-the-well against Rüpke and muddies the water (though Harper's commentary is worth reading in conjunction with Pantheon). One point Harper makes that I think is salient is -
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 ...
Kyle Harper is professor of classics and letters and provost at the University of Oklahoma.
... The stark intransigence of the martyrs “hacked” into the Roman practice of making a public spectacle of penal torture.