Monday, April 30, 2018


Alan H. Cadwallader (ed.), Stones, Bones and the Sacred: Essays on Material Culture and Religion in Honor of Dennis E. Smith. Early Christianity and its literature. Atlanta: SBL Press, 2016. Pp. xvii, 365. ISBN 9781628371666. $44.68.

Reviewed by Bilal Bas, Marmara University (

Version at BMCR home site

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

Material products of any religious tradition such as buildings, monuments, graveyards, dress, food, musical instruments, ritual objects are considered by scholars to be revealing of a tradition's world view. Material culture thus tells us as much about a religion as texts, beliefs, and dogmas. Moreover, it has the capacity to open up new areas of investigation where literary evidence remains silent. Literary culture of a religion such as Christianity is often considered to reflect the concerns and preferences of a cultural elite that generally represented what scholars call the "official religion". The ordinary members of religion often experience religious life in ways that differ from elites, hence the term "popular religion". In addition to furnishing us insights about the world of the elite, material culture also provides us with many insights about that of ordinary people. In the attempt to reconstruct these varying worlds, material culture has been employed in the study of religion for quite some time and archaeology has become a major provider of evidence for historical constructions of religions. Yet one should always keep in mind that archaeological evidence does not give us as direct information as literary evidence because, since it cannot speak for itself, it is always open to various interpretations.

Reconstruction of early Christianity is often difficult on account of the scarcity of literary evidence. As a result, material evidence provided by archaeological research is increasingly employed in the study of early Christianity and the New Testament in order to shed light on various areas of investigation where literary sources are largely silent. The late Helmut Koester of Harvard Divinity School was a prominent scholar who actively engaged in archaeological investigation as an aid to New Testament scholarship. The combination is challenging and difficult for it requires expertise in two rather difficult and demanding disciplines. This brings us to his student and heir Dennis E. Smith who successfully engaged in both disciplines with his pioneering work on meals in Greco-Roman Antiquity and to the Colloquium on Material Culture and Ancient Religion (COMCAR) in which most of the authors of this volume participated.

Stones, Bones, and the Sacred is a collection of 16 essays on material culture and ancient religion in honor of Dennis E. Smith edited by Alan H. Cadwallader. In the first essay, Hal E. Taussig presents a general evaluation of Dennis E. Smith's scholarship and the final essay is written by Smith himself as a response to the essays. In general, the essays focus on the intersection of material culture, ancient religion, and the texts and practices of early Christianity. Many of the authors attempt to employ the interpretation of material culture in the New Testament exegesis and Christian origins (Ibita, Økland, Huber, Cadwallader, Kurek-Chomycz and Bieringer, Weima, Thompson, and Wilson). A group of scholars employ literary and material evidence in order to explore meals in Greco-Roman world and early Christianity (Ibita, Alikin, Friesen, Schowalter, Dyer, Økland).

All the essays are well-written, learned contributions to their respective fields and thus worth mentioning. However, due to the limited space allowed for a book review, there is room to review only some of them.

In "Embodied Inequalities: Diet Reconstruction and Christian Origins", Steven J. Friesen analyzes the findings of the literature on diet reconstruction in the Roman Empire and the reasons of inequality in food distribution in order to show the ways in which the earliest churches distributed their sources differently. The data is obtained mainly through a new method, stable isotope analysis of skeletal remains. Friesen suggests that though the data is not yet sufficient enough to reach general conclusions, it still allows us to explore questions of inequality related to an individual's regional origins, gender, age, occupation, status, and urbanity, and in relation to this, it may also enable us to study ways the earliest Christians positioned themselves in terms of inequality of food distributions. It may furnish a promising avenue, suggests Friesen, for examining redistributions of food in early church rituals, food charity and nonritual distribution of food, as well as the discursive deployment of hunger and the symbolic potential of nourishment in the texts and the narrative significance of food and hunger in Christian literature. Though this new tool does indeed look promising for opening up new doors to various questions, the data provided by the method is to date meagre and therefore insufficient to create reliable reconstructions.

In "Eating Words in the New Testament", Keith Dyer compares the statistics of eating and banqueting vocabulary of the New Testament with those of Josephus's writings in order to evaluate the Smith-Klingardt paradigm that the Greco-Roman banquet across the Mediterranean world was the primary model for all main meal dining (including Jewish and early Christian meals) in the first century of the Common Era and beyond. The statistics are remarkable in that in comparison with the numerous uses in Josephus, the New Testament authors rarely used the vocabulary related to banqueting. Dyer explains this situation by referring to the sensibilities of NT writers, in particular of Paul, to their addressees who mostly came from lower strata of society, namely poor people and slaves who had little opportunity to participate in such banquets. Even Dyer's findings promise new insights into the social structure of the earliest Christian communities, they represent a challenge to the Smith-Klingardt paradigm.

In "Making Men in Rev 2-3: Reading the Seven Messages in the Bath-Gymnasiums of Asia Minor", Lyn R. Huber employs the bath-gymnasium culture the Roman Anatolia to reconstruct the meaning of the messages of Rev 2-3 to seven churches in conversation with the masculine gender in the Roman world. She suggests that it is possible to see how the messages participate in a cultural imagination of a masculine ideal, by envisioning a victor whose endurance leads to reward in a New Jerusalem. The essay shows that the bath-gymnasium complex was a cite designed for the production of virtuous and disciplined young men. Endurance in face of trials and hardships, discipline, physical harmony, moderation and courage were considered qualities necessary to become an ideal man. Since certain features of Rev 2-3 evoke the ways masculinity was constructed in the bath-gymnasium, Huber concludes that it is possible that Rev imagines audience members whose identities are shaped in relation to this culture. It is a well-structured argument, and the parallels are striking; yet this canon of virtues cannot be easily specified for the bath-gymnasium context as they are common in Greco-Roman culture in general.

In "At the Origins of Christian Apologetic Literature: The Politics of Patronage in Hadrianic Athens", William Rutherford mainly focuses on Hadrian's religious performances and public acts of munificence toward Athens, in search for possible reasons for the emperor's special favors to the city. He suggests that as the seat of the Panhellenion, Athens assumed a central role in the emperor's program of uniting Roman West with Greek East. He also mentions that his patronage of Athens served as an intertext for Aristides's Apology which he shows was a work of political theology, thereby suggesting a similarity between the political ideology of the emperor's benefactions and that of the argument of Aristides's work. As all political theologians of early church history from the Apostle Paul down to Eusebius of Caesarea present similar Stoic outlooks derived from their Greco-Roman pagan counterparts, Rutherford's construction is persuasive.

In "One Grave, Two Women, One Men: Complicating Family Life at Colossae", the editor of the volume Alan H. Cadwallader attempts to identify the possible audience of Paul's instructions for maintaining the Roman nuclear family relations in his letter to Colosseans (3:18-25) by exploring the indications of family and household at Colossae derived from the epigraphy and reliefs of funerary stones and monuments. He suggests that an analysis of several epitaphs and funerary monuments reveals a rather "variegated scene of households and differentiated family structures and that none of the epitaphs fits the form implied in the code in the letter." Cadwallader argues that if these epitaphs are a representative sample of Colossian society, then perhaps the code had little to do with the membership of the Colossian congregation and suggests that possibly the letter had another audience, fictive or otherwise, in view. The essay is well-written with an impressive interpretation of the material evidence even if the evidence unearthed to date is insufficient to reach a reliable construction of the Colossian society.

In "The Baptists of Corinth: Paul, the Partisans of Apollos, and the History of Baptism in Nascent Christianity," Stephen J. Patterson focuses on the story of how baptism came to be a rite practiced within nascent Christian communities. The author examines the context of 1 Cor 1:11-13 as the earliest mention of baptism and concludes that figures like Apollos have to be the missing link in the history of baptism. If we take him as a baptist who baptized like John, Patterson convingly argues, then baptism came not from Christians like Paul, but from baptists like Apollos. The rite was later appropriated by Christian communities as the initiation ritual by which everyone joined the church.

The final essay of the volume is a response by Dennis E. Smith to all contributions, grouped under the titles of "Material Culture", "Meals in the Greco-Roman World", and the "New Testament and Christian Origins". Taken together the essays make a substantial contribution, with Smith's words, "in exhibiting the interrelationship between the interpretation of material culture and New Testament exegesis."

Table of Contents

Preface, p. xvii
The Scholarship of Dennis E. Smith, Hal E. Taussig, p. xix
Embodied Inequalities: Diet Reconstruction and Christian Origins, Steven J. Friesen, p. 9
Food Crises in Corinth? Revisiting the Evidence and Its Possible Implications in Reading 1 Cor 11:17-34, Ma. Marilou S. Ibita, p. 33
Don't Take It Lying Down: Nondining Features of the Omrit Temple Excavations, Daniel N. Schowalter, p. 55
Eating Words in the New Testament, Keith Dyer, p. 69
Ancient Drinking in Modern Bible Translation, Jorunn Økland, p. 85
Making Men in Rev 2-3: Reading the Seven Messages in the Bath-Gymnasiums of Asia Minor, Lynn R. Huber, p. 101
At the Origins of Christian Apologetic Literature: The Politics of Patronage in Hadrianic Athens, William Rutherford, p. 129
One Grave, Two Women, One Man: Complicating Family Life at Colossae, Alan H. Cadwallader, p. 157.
The Corinthian χαιναí χτíσεις? Second Corinthians 5:17 and the Roman Refoundation of Corinth, Dominika Kurek-Chomycz and Reimund Bieringer, p. 195
Women as Leaders in the Gatherings of Early Christian Communities: A Sociocultural Analysis, Valeriy A. Alikin, p. 221
The Political Charges against Paul and Silas in Acts 17:6-7: Roman Benefaction in Thessalonica, Jeffrey A. D. Weima, p. 241.
Paul's Walk to Assos: A Hodological Inquiry into Its Geography, Archaeology, and Purpose, Glen L. Thompson and Mark Wilson, p. 269.
The Baptists of Corinth: Paul, the Partisans of Apollos, and the History of Baptism in Nascent Christianity, Stephen J. Patterson, p. 315
A Response, Dennis E. Smith, p. 329
List of Contributors, p. 335
Index of Ancient Sources, p. 339
Index of Place Names, p. 352
Index of Modern Authors, p. 355
Index of Subjects, p. 361

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