Wednesday, December 18, 2013


S. R. Llewelyn, James R. Harrison, E. J. Bridge (ed.), A Review of the Greek and Other Inscriptions and Papyri Published between 1988 and 1992. New documents illustrating early Christianity, 10. Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2012. Pp. ix, 269. ISBN 9780802845207. $40.00 (pb).

Reviewed by Kevin Funderburk, Baylor University (

Version at BMCR home site


The latest volume of New Docs gathers sixteen contributors to offer text, translation and commentary for twenty-six inscriptions and papyri composed in Greek and Latin whose original publication or revision occurred between 1988 and 1992.1 The primary goal of this series is to introduce students of the New Testament and ancient Judaism to the documentary record of the Mediterranean through analysis relevant to the concerns of classicists and ancient historians. The volume also serves as a doorway for classically trained scholars into the concerns and debates regarding how relationships with the divine were expressed in biblical literature, as well as how the configuration of these relationships inflected social, economic and political realities of the Hellenistic and Roman worlds. Dealing with the questions and bibliographies for these disparate fields is a daunting task, and to their credit the contributors to this volume have succeeded in great part. The volume thus provides material for scholars of both fields to make deeper inquiry into the intersection of ritual, political, social and economic practices and to understand how people within Jewish and Christian circles engaged with or reconfigured these practices, notably those of euergetism and divination.

The evidence, most of which was originally chiseled or inked in the Roman East, is divided into eight topical sections including philosophy, magic, cult and oracle, public life I (Caesarian accession), public life II (benefactions and business), household matters, Judaica and Christianity. The volume begins with a revision of a recent treatment of two honorific inscriptions on marble bases from Prusa in Bithynia, first published in 1909. The editor, E.A. Judge, argues against any notion of the self-styled philosophoi who were involved in either case belonging to a legally identified koinon or philosophical cadre. He further denies that philosophers usually had special meeting spaces (scholai) to call their own and characterizes them more as informal gurus (in this case, Stoics) whose followers circulated in and out of their circles very freely. These points are sound, although they were in fact already made by Horsley in an earlier volume of New Docs (as the editor himself notes) and indeed were not applicable only to philosophic circles. Such fluidity of membership and lack of formal meeting space also characterized the circles of grammarians, rhetoric teachers and sophists like Libanius of Antioch in the fourth century.2 The repetition of these points seems to be a function of the series' habit of commenting on debates initiated or pursued in publications of twenty years ago; still, Judge does reveal certain peculiarities of the inscription that can be pursued more thoroughly and can be more clearly connected to the concerns of students of early Judaism and Christianity. The commentary raises the question, for example, of what it meant for Roman provincial politics and ancient family dynamics that a Stoic philosopher joined with a city council to dedicate an inscription to his friend and fellow philosopher, one who also was a member of the same Roman gens. Moreover, how did philosophical ties of friendship differ in relational character from those of the late Second Temple factions, diaspora Jews or the primitive Church?

Similar questions arise for the reader from the treatment of the material in selection fourteen, an inscription concerning Antiochus IV Epiphanes' public presentation in Athens—how does his epigraphic record inform us of his own theory and practice of kingship? How does the Maccabean literature critique or qualify that presentation? How do concepts like citizenship, legal tradition and legitimate power differ between epigraphic and literary media? Making these comparisons and questions explicit would further augment the utility of this volume for many different kinds of readers.

The fifteenth and sixteenth documents, the one an inscription recording the bestowal of imperial privileges on a polis of Aezani in Phrygia and the other the Customs Law of Asia (lex portorii Asiae), also suggest further paths of inquiry when juxtaposed. In the former, B. Sanderson presents a fragmentary inscription that possibly confirmed the privileges of asylum and inviolability which Augustus had granted to the city at some earlier point. The editor links this to literary notices found in both Josephus and Philo of Alexandria concerning requests made by Jewish communities for rights of free assembly and of levying taxes on their compatriots, particularly in order to pay the Jerusalem Temple tax. Although this link is tenuous and although this particular inscription does not add much to our knowledge of the maneuvers involved in achieving such imperial grants, the suggestion that Jews and other cultic groups often sought public recognition of their right to exact monies for sacred buildings and personnel can be usefully combined with insights from the commentary on the next document.

In the treatment of the Customs Law that follows, the editor at lines 81 and 119 focuses on how term koinonoi describes tax gatherers in business partnership. This serves as a starting point for a discussion of how the apostle Paul conceived of his relationship with junior colleagues like Timothy and Philemon, given that he employed the same term to describe them. This point could be pushed further, and one could think of Paul and company as "publicans" of young churches who were seeking to collect tithes from new Christians in Macedonia, Thrace, Asia and Syria in order to support a coterie of Jewish brethren seeking to assert their position regarding the Temple in spite of serious opposition, possibly including the confiscation of their property or financial pressure from kinsmen. Did Paul or the other apostles seek imperial permission for this sort of behavior as did their fellow Jews or other political and religious communities? If so, was this one of the reasons for Paul's obsession with reaching Rome, or for Peter's sojourn there? Or did the apostles simply gather tithes from other regions without any concern for official recognition, leaving such concerns for public recognition to later generations of apologists and bishops? These volumes catalyze these kinds of questions, and it is this quality which constitutes their particular scholarly contribution.

A.H. Cadwallader's commentary on the next entry, an honorific inscription erected for the repair of Colossae's baths and funded by a citizen named Korymbos, also enables some further connection with questions of interest to ancient historians. Discussion of this restoration is parenthetical to a discussion of ancient ethnicity and its importance in view of the Pauline declaration that in the church there is "neither Greek nor Jew, circumcised nor uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave nor free, but all are one in Christ" (Col. 3:11). Such discussion might be further enriched by scholarship on the tax screening applications (epikriseis) known from Roman Egypt's papyrological record as providing comparative cases in which privilege and prestige were allocated according to which ethnic heritage one could claim. 3 On that topic, Jonathan Hall's work on Greek discourses of belonging and political alliance as intimately tied to antiquarian work on heroic and divine genealogies might also be beneficial.4

On the whole, the contributions dealing with magic, public cult, politics and the language of interaction used between the core and periphery of the empire are the most successful in addressing concerns shared by classicists and students of religion. Certain entries dealing with daily business, however, have no obvious role in this volume, such as #20 on the sale of a horse or #23 on a Roman soldier's pay slip. Regarding private life, #21 on the place of dogs as pets in ancient families contains a lengthy meditation on the pericope of the Syrophoenician woman (Mark 7:24-30) which reads like one side of an extended conversation between A.H. Cadwallader and J.R. Harrison regarding the place of Jews versus gentiles in Christianity; this conversation is indeed of interest but could have been condensed. In addition, certain modern tropes of ancient patriarchy and ideals are repeated in the entries concerning divorce (#18) and women gone wild (#19), which offer little in the way of nuance to our conception of ancient sexual relations.5 Still, these entries serve as useful introductions to certain current scholarly treatments of household and family life and make further gestures toward certain ongoing discussions in religious studies with which classicists might also engage.

In sum, this volume succeeds in bridging disciplines that have grown apart and sparks hypotheses from its careful commentary on various kinds of ancient documentary evidence. This catalytic potential is only somewhat lessened for ancient historians by a tendency sometimes to omit bibliography and to miss certain important theoretical advances regarding ancient social relationships and identities made since the publication of the documents selected. It is therefore regrettable that the series is falling further behind new publications in epigraphy and papyrology. One hopes that a more efficient culling process might be developed for choosing fruitful texts, and that a broader network of scholars could join those working under Macquarie University's umbrella to quicken the pace. No matter the challenges, it is clear that scholars of religion and of classics will profit from this volume and from the subsequent publications in its series.


1.   BMCR reviews of the previous two volumes in this series can be found here: 2003.06.46 and 1999.05.05.
2.   See Rafaella Cribiore, The School of Libanius in Late Antique Antioch (Princeton, 2007); Robert Kaster, Guardians of Language: The Grammarian and Society in Late Antiquity (Berkeley, 1989).
3.   See Roger Bagnall and Bruce Frier, The Demography of Roman Egypt (Cambridge, 2006 2nd ed.); Willy Clarysse and Dorothy Thompson, Counting the People in Hellenistic Egypt (Cambridge, 2006).
4.   See Jonathan Hall, Ethnic Identity in Greek Antiquity (Cambridge, 1997) and Hellenicity: Between Ethnicity and Culture (Chicago, 2002); see also the useful introduction by Nino Luraghi in The Ancient Messenians: Constructions of Ethnicity and Memory (Cambridge, 2008). The commentary on Korymbos does perhaps the best job of recognizing how fluid and problematic the categories of Christian, Jew, Greek or Roman can be. Greg Woolf's Becoming Roman: the origins of provincial civilization in Gaul (Cambridge, 1998) would be a helpful starting point regarding 'Romanization' and what that term could mean elsewhere in this volume, as when speaking of divorce documents or the Babatha archive (#24). The categories of Jewish and Christian are also problematic and often have little descriptive utility, especially when speaking of magic, and so acknowledgment of the fuzziness of these identities would also serve the volume's purpose.
5.   The bibliography for #18 should include Uri Yiftach-Firanko, Marriage and Marital Arrangements: A History of the Greek Marriage Document in Egypt, 4th Century BCE—4th Century CE (Munich, 2003); #21 should include Ville Vuolanto, "Women and the Property of Fatherless Children in the Roman Empire," in Women, Power and Property in Roman Empire (Rome, 2003) as well as Jacobine Oudshoorn, The Relationship between Roman and Local Law in the Babatha and Salome Komaise Archives: General Analysis and Three Case Studies on Law of Succession, Guardianship and Marriage (Boston, 2007).

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