Sunday, May 17, 2015


Philip A. Harland, Greco-Roman Associations: Texts, Translations and Commentary. II. North Coast of the Black Sea, Asia Minor. Beihefte zur Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft, Bd 204. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2014. Pp. xxx, 564. ISBN 9783110340143. €99.95.

Reviewed by Cédric Brélaz, University of Strasbourg (

Version at BMCR home site


This book is the second volume in a series aiming at bringing together Greek and Latin inscriptions regarding private associations in the ancient world. Such a publication is consistent with the recent trend in New Testament scholarship of considering early Christian communities in the same light as the religious and occupational associations in the Roman Empire. Scholars such as J. S. Kloppenborg,1 P. A. Harland,2 R. S. Ascough3 and, most recently, J. M. Ogereau4 have shown that the groups created by the Apostle Paul in Asia Minor and in Greece both had an internal structure and developed activities very similar to their pagan counterparts with respect to terminology, hierarchy, and financial organization.

Volume 1 of the series was published in 2011 and gathered 91 inscriptions from Attica, Central Greece, Macedonia, and Thrace, ranging from the 4th century BC to the Imperial period.5 Most of the inscriptions documented associations in Attica, including the famous by-laws of the Iobakchoi (no. 51), and in Macedonia, especially in Thessalonica and in the Roman colony of Philippi,6 a location which is of some relevance for the history of early Christian communities, since Paul founded the first ekklēsia in Europe at Philippi. Forthcoming volumes will be dedicated to Syria-Palestine, Egypt, and to the Western provinces of the Roman Empire.

Volume 2, edited by Philip A. Harland, contains ca. 60 inscriptions (numbered 92-153) from the Bosporan Kingdom and from various parts of Asia Minor, arranged in geographical order and dated to the Hellenistic and Imperial periods. The exact origin of the inscriptions is not mentioned in the table of contents, but only at the beginning of each entry. Harland's volume was not intended to be a comprehensive corpus of inscriptions related to associations in Asia Minor (an almost impossible task due to the thousands of texts known from that part of the ancient world), but rather a selection of documents illustrating the life of these groups. Harland's main goal has been to pick examples showing the variety of the statuses, functions and names of associations attested in the Greco-Roman world.

Harland's volume is a much expanded version of some of the entries dedicated to Asia Minor in the sourcebook on associations published in 2012 by the same author together with J. S. Kloppenborg and R. S. Ascough.7 Unlike the sourcebook, every entry contains the original Greek text, a translation, critical notes, and thorough comments. The volume does not, however, provide a new edition of the epigraphic texts. The Greek text is reprinted from one of the previous publications and the critical notes (which are not, strictly speaking, a critical apparatus, but offer comments on some specific words of each inscription) do not systematically mention alternative readings. That being said, the most important contribution of the volume is found rather in Harland's substantial comments on each inscription, which are much more ample in comparison with Volume 1. For every single entry, a section lists a fair number of inscriptions dealing with similar topics, including many documents not included in the book, while another section lists references to additional literature.

Since the volume contains documents referring to a huge diversity of associations, it may be useful to give an overview of the various kinds of groups discussed by the author. Harland is certainly right in not putting too much emphasis on the distinction between religious and occupational associations, since – as he convincingly argues – members of the latter also regularly gathered for cultic purposes. Inscriptions related to associations linked to the gymnasia have been left out, as well as those regarding boards of officials dealing with the administration of sanctuaries. The various names used to describe associations are listed in a specific index on pp. 467-476 (pp. 477-485 list functionaries within associations).8 The terms synagogē and proseuchē deserve special attention, which Harland shows were not limited to describing Jewish prayer-houses (pp. 27-28, 53). Most of the evidence in the volume comprises honorific inscriptions or dedications erected by associations as well as ratified decrees. Other common documents include membership lists and copies of regulations, similar to sacred laws (nos. 117, 140, 152 [regulations regarding the dedications to the god Sabbatistes, whose connection with the Jewish 'Sabbath' is very uncertain]). Most of these inscriptions have been well known for a long time. Among the more famous documents, one can cite, for example, the decree from Augustus and Agrippa about the possession of sacred properties by individuals in Kyme (no. 104); the letter from an Ephesian cultic association to the proconsul (no. 128); and the decree enacting posthumous honors for Apollonis in Kyzikos (no. 108). Other noteworthy inscriptions are the texts regarding the Attalid ruler cult (nos. 121, 141), a Lydian confession inscription (no. 119), and copies of oracles regarding associations (nos. 133, 143), the latter of which originally dates to the 3rd century BC and was reinscribed in the Imperial period (see also no. 120 on this).

Among the various cultic groups considered by Harland, it is worth mentioning – apart from the widely attested associations devoted to Dionysos (e.g. no. 97) or to the Egyptian gods (e.g. no. 101) – the Orphic communities known in the Bosporan Kingdom (no. 92); the cult of Theos Hypsistos (no. 96), including a discussion on whether that deity was understood as the unique God of the Jews; and the cult of the god 'Holy and Just' in Asia Minor (no. 112). Discussions about the cults of other deities, such as Men on pp. 147-148 and 202, are to be found in some comments. Harland has included inscriptions referring to Jewish communities (no. 95 [manumission act of a slave to the Jewish God including an oath to pagan deities], 106, 113, 116, 135, 139, 150) – or rather 'Judean' according to the form preferred by the author (p. 315). Reference to the 'mystery' nature of cults is quite common (e.g. no. 100 [participation of children in mystery cults], 138), according to a general trend noticeable throughout Asia Minor in the Imperial period. Other remarkable features in the area of religious views involve beliefs in the afterlife (no. 100, 102) and Pythagoreanism (pp. 322-324).

Occupational groups were very numerous in Roman Asia Minor, as the book by O. van Nijf, published in 1997, had already made clear.9 A specific index lists the various types of these associations (pp. 465-467). Harland has rightly included among them the associations of Roman businessmen (no. 103 [with, pp. 79-80, a very useful list of pragmateuomenoi or katoikountes Rhōmaioi attested in Asia Minor], 108, 115). The mention of associations of purple-dyers and fullers (nos. 114, 116, 123, 153) is of special relevance in the context of early Christianity, because of the involvement of many Christians in the textile sector, such as Lydia, the first woman to have been converted in Philippi by Paul according to the Acts of the Apostles (16:14), and Paul himself. The Ephesian guild of silversmiths (no. 126) also echoes the passage in the Acts relating Paul's visit in the capital of the province of Asia. One can also mention, among other groups, associations of physicians (no. 129); philosophical societies (with a discussion on pp. 371-383 of their legal status); neighborhood associations (no. 115); and the worldwide associations of athletes (no. 142) and performers (no. 144).

In the first entry of each section dedicated to a specific region or city, Harland gives an overview of the total available evidence regarding associations in the relevant area/city (for instance, pp. 168-172 on Phrygian Hierapolis and pp. 337-339 on Caria). On this occasion, many inscriptions, which are not included as individual entries in the volume, are referred to and discussed, in some cases even fully cited and translated. Those general outlines on each area/city, useful and important as they are (inscriptions referred to in this context are also listed in the index), do not properly form a monograph on associations in Asia Minor, as is stated by the author (p. 2)—such a synthesis is still waiting to be made. Yet, this collection of case studies provides a huge quantity of information on the social basis of the associations, on their internal organization, on their religious practices, as well as on their secular activities. Among many other issues, Harland makes interesting comments on grave-ceremonies performed by associations (no. 116, with a discussion on pp. 411-417 about common burials, no. 150 on a tomb built for 'all the Judeans'); on the possible link between some associations attested in Lycia and the indigenous institution of the minti, which seems to have been a funerary association (pp. 408-409); on the participation of groups of hymn-singers to celebrate the imperial cult at the provincial level in Asia (pp. 134-139); on the participation of associations alongside civic authorities to pass decrees (pp. 163-165); on the protection and grants given to associations by Roman authorities (pp. 263-266, 380-381); on the use of familial terminology to indicate officials and members of associations, such as 'father' or 'brother' (pp. 36-38, 98-100); on gender-based associations or, on the contrary, on mixed membership (p. 53) and, finally, on the role of women in associations (pp. 97-100, 113-114, 309-311, 348-350).

Harland's book—as well as Volume 1 and the entire forthcoming series—will be an essential tool for anyone dealing with associations as a social, economic, and cultic phenomenon in the ancient world. Recently, P. Ismard has shown that associations were playing a key role for the socialization of individuals in the Greek cities as early as the Archaic and Classical periods.10 Associations did not remain on the fringes of the civic sphere. On the contrary, they were part of the social, cultural, and even institutional, functioning of cities, acting as an interface between individuals and the collectivity, as suggested by the ongoing Copenhagen Associations Project, which aims at compiling an inventory of all known private associations in the Greek world.11 This is also valid for the Jewish communities, which were embedded within Greek cities as shown by P. Trebilco,12 as well as for the first Christian groups, even if those were not as willing to cope with the political and moral order imposed by Roman rule. The discussion by New Testament scholars of the social context of the emerging Christian groups is very welcome. There is no doubt that this important contribution will help ancient historians reassess the whole issue of how crucial associations were for social relationships in ancient cities.


1.   J. S. Kloppenborg and S. G. Wilson, Voluntary Associations in the Graeco-Roman World, London-New York, 1996.
2.   P. A. Harland, Associations, Synagogues, and Congregations, Minneapolis, 2003 (2013 online revised edition).
3.   R. S. Ascough, Paul's Macedonian Associations, Tübingen, 2003.
4.   J. M. Ogereau, Paul's Koinonia with the Philippians. A Socio-Historical Investigation of a Pauline Economic Partnership, Tübingen, 2014.
5.   J. S. Kloppenborg and R. S. Ascough, Greco-Roman Associations: Texts, Translations, and Commentary. I. Attica, Central Greece, Macedonia, Thrace, Berlin-New York, 2011.
6.   Nos. 67-71 = P. Pilhofer, Philippi, II, Katalog der Inschriften von Philippi, Tübingen, 2009 2, nos. 133, 142, 163-166, 340, 410 (reference to Pilhofer's collection should now be made according to the second revised edition from 2009).
7.   R. S. Ascough, P. A. Harland and J. S. Kloppenborg, Associations in the Greco-Roman World. A Sourcebook, Waco, 2012 (online searchable database containing hundreds of additional inscriptions).
8.   The indices, on pp. 449-564 (including a general index), are cumulative for Volumes 1 and 2. Corrigenda of Volume 1 on p. 565.
9.   O. van Nijf, The Civic World of Professional Associations in the Roman East, Amsterdam, 1997.
10.   P. Ismard, La cité des réseaux. Athènes et ses associations VIe-Ier siècle av. J.-C., Paris, 2010.
11.   See the Project website. See also P. Fröhlich and P. Hamon (eds.), Groupes et associations dans les cités grecques (IIIe siècle av. J.-C.-IIe siècle ap. J.-C), Geneva, 2013.
12.   P. R. Trebilco, Jewish Communities in Asia Minor, Cambridge, 1991.

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