Tuesday, October 29, 2019


Laura Salah Nasrallah, Archaeology and the Letters of Paul. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2019. Pp. xvii, 310. ISBN 9780199699674. $99.00.

Reviewed by Bruce W. Longenecker, Baylor University (bruce_longenecker@baylor.edu)

Version at BMCR home site


If this book is about Paul's letters, its author states upfront that it is "even more" about "the social, political, economic, and religious lives of those to whom and with whom Paul wrote," aiming to "[enter] into their local contexts and [reconstruct] something of the possibilities of their lives" (1). Laura Nasrallah's explicit concern (acknowledged as rooted in feminist hermeneutics) is to capture something of the voices otherwise stifled by the texts of the ancient elite and in mainstream studies of the early Jesus-movement. Her book tells "six stories which emerge from local contexts" (2), placing those stories in conversation with New Testament texts that were addressed to those same urban centers—not to learn more about those texts necessarily, but to imagine how those texts might have been received by ancient audiences marginalized in current discussions of the early Jesus-movement. The ultimate goal is to reset the interpretive agenda—challenging the reign of theological interpretations, at least to the extent that they have neglected the agendas of the ordinary people on the ground in the ancient Roman world. In this regard, Nasrallah joins others who have made similar emphases in recent years, as part of the "material turn" in the study of the early Jesus-movement to explore what has been called "the people's history" or "history from below."

This book does not have a grand overarching thesis that develops incrementally from start to finish. Nasrallah's six case studies make their own self-contained contributions, which collectively reinforce the central concern noted above. Before setting out her "six stories," Nasrallah reflects on the role of archaeological study in relation to studies of Paul ("On Method: Archaeology and the Letters of Paul"). Overviewing the checkered past of Christian apologetics hijacking archaeology, Nasrallah sees the study of material culture as now being the arena for "reconstruct[ing] a fuller range of early Christian life than we gain by analysis of written texts alone" (30). Since the intricacies of Nasrallah's ambitious book cannot be adequately condensed in a review of this kind, I will offer short overviews of five of her six independent case studies before commenting briefly on her work.

Nasrallah's second chapter, "On Slaves and Other Things: Ephesos (and Corinth)," initially foregrounds Paul's letter to Philemon, which was prompted when Philemon's slave Onesimus crossed paths with Paul in a Roman prison cell in Ephesos. Nasrallah considers how that short letter permits first-century audiences to construct new forms of status for slaves, precisely because slavery and kinship language is thrown together in a jumbled mix. Nasrallah then asks about the effect of a theological metaphor that Paul uses twice in another letter written from Ephesos: "you were bought with a price" (1 Cor 6:20; 7:23). What would such a metaphor mean for free, freed, and slaves within the Corinthian community? Because Corinth was seen by some as a city "of good-for-nothing slaves" (cf. Crinagoras, Anthologia Graeca 9.284), and because of Corinth's recent history as a city founded by ex-slaves rather than veterans, Nasrallah proposes that the metaphor may have been particularly live at Corinth, perhaps "send[ing] a chill down the spines of slave and master alike" (257), relativizing the polarization of free and slave status, and thereby promoting the possibility of novel forms of relationality.

In "On Travel and Hospitality: The Letter to the Galatians" (chapter 3), Nasrallah foregrounds the fact that Paul's letter to the Galatians recounts three instances of travelers embedding themselves within indigenous communities—the Antioch incident (2:11-14), Paul's own arrival in Galatia (4:13–14), and those whom Paul deems to be disrupting the Galatian communities (4:17). Although interpreters have delved deeply into the theology of Galatians for centuries, the same letter "can be used…to reconstruct something of the situations of those who hosted such journeyers" (91). In this regard, an inscription from Galatian Sagalassos (SEG 26:1392) notably "seeks to protect locals against abuses [of hospitality]" (94) by those embedded in the Roman imperial system (e.g., soldiers and imperial post deliverers). Nasrallah comments: "Demands upon locals were not a mere inconvenience for those who lived at or near subsistence level… [Locals] might [in fact] have to leave their ancestral lands" to accommodate the expectations of hospitality (99). Nasrallah proposes that resentment against travelers who impose on the indigenous is conjured in Paul's charge against Cephas and "certain people from James" (Gal 2:11-14) and his charge against those who are currently disrupting the Galatian communities (4:14). Even though Paul "admits that even he was an imposition to those whom he addresses" (100), his "rhetorical point is that [he] seeks to act differently from other imposing travelers" (101).

Nasrallah's fourth chapter, "On Poverty and Abundance: Philippi and the Letter to the Philippians," focuses on the economics of Jesus-devotion in Philippi, where koinônia (a theme in the Philippian letter) is "partnership concretized through financial exchange and investment" (107). In their support of Paul, Philippian Jesus-devotees were giving "out of their poverty" but "were therefore associated with [divine] abundance"—indicating a rescripting "of conventional understandings of success" (128), with Paul's letter "deny[ing] participation in a benefaction system" and "translat[ing] meaning" so that "money becomes sacrifice" (138). This "translation" of meaning is set against a backdrop of inscriptions in the sanctuary of the deity Silvanus at Philippi (second century CE) and other local inscriptions, which illustrate precisely how relatively insignificant the Philippians' economic support would have been in comparison to most forms of abundant and named civic benefaction. The Philippians' small economic initiatives in support of Paul both drew upon and inverted the general social script of their day.

In her fifth chapter, "On Grief: Roman Corinth and 1 Corinthians," Nasrallah depicts Corinth as a city whose "biography" is deeply associated with political forms of grief. Grief is deeply embedded within (1) narratives of the city's destruction by Roman forces in 146 BCE, (2) the city's repopulation by poor, relocated ex-slaves in 44 BCE, and (3) its higher-than-normal rate of child mortality. Added to this is the mythological narrative (set in Corinth) of Medea killing her own children—with a marble memorial to those infant victims standing prominently in a busy sector of ancient Corinth. In one interpretation of the story, Medea is thought to have enacted a "magical-religious rite" fostering "the immortalization of one's child" (166)—thereby linking Medea to the cult of Demeter and Kore (through themes of death and rebirth), with a sanctuary to Demeter and Kore located on the Acrocorinth. Against this backdrop of grief in death and the promise of rebirth, Nasrallah highlights how unsurprising it is to find that the Corinthian Jesus-followers were practicing baptism "on behalf of the dead" (15:29). In this, Corinthian Jesus-followers sought to redefine their relational bonds not only between themselves but between themselves and the deceased for whom they grieved.

Entitled "On Time, Race, and Obelisks: Rome and the Letter to the Romans," Nasrallah's sixth chapter sets Romans in the context of the ethnic conflict that was often negotiated in the imperial city itself. How might that context inform our understanding of how Paul's letter (dealing with ethnic identities in Christ) may have been received? Here Nasrallah foregrounds the Egyptian "obelisk of Psamtik II/Augustus" that was erected as a timepiece in the Augustan mausoleum complex, representing the merging of ethnic identity and the structuring of time—just as Paul's letter recalculates both in relation to Jesus Christ. Nasrallah proposes that the obelisk and Paul's letter have "a shared discourse…that linked power, cosmos, ethnicity, and time" (211). The final quarter of the chapter adds discussion of the obelisk erected by Mussolini in his own honor in 1932 (in relation to his "representation" of Augustus's Mausoleum complex in the 1920s and 30s). The axis that runs throughout this temporally elongated collection (text, ancient artifact, and recent monument) is the messianic aura of salvific figures in which time is restructured and discourse emerges that involves consideration (one way or another) of Jewish ethnic identity.

Errors are at a minimum in this impressive volume.1 There may be small points to quibble with in relation to some of the book's self-contained essays, of course—not least, whether certain issues are deserving of such a localized focus (e.g., slavery in Ephesus; grief in Corinth). A more overarching issue is the effectiveness of Nasrallah's frequent claim that Paul's addressees lived "at or below subsistence level" (e.g., 112, 139, 158)—a claim that might benefit from further nuance. While these two "levels" ("at" and "below" subsistence) are closely related in some regards, they are also significantly different in other regards (e.g., strategies for survival). A proposed distinction between the "general poor" from the "utterly destitute" (for instance) might have given further depth and subtlety to Nasrallah's attempted readings—and that is even before giving consideration to the Jesus-followers in "middling" economic groups (admittedly much fewer in number). Nasrallah does better at capturing the prosopographic spread of early Jesus-followers in her simple observation that Jesus-followers were "less than elite" (140), but the potential of that observation has little effect in relation to her general predilection to locate Jesus-followers along the depressed line of subsistence without much differentiation. Exploring a diverse membership within a more economically elongated community would have introduced fruitful issues pertaining to precisely the thing that Nasrallah is interested in—the everyday lives of ordinary Jesus-followers and the complexity of relationships between them. And once the prosopographic spread is consistently elongated, and when diversity of social locations of various kinds are explored, there is always the chance that other forms of hypothesized interpretations of texts will emerge.

If Nasrallah's book is, at times, elaborately labyrinthine, it is always eloquent and exquisitely executed. In one sense, the emphasis on "archaeology" in the book's title is slightly misleading, since there are long stretches of the book where material artifacts are at times absent from her discussion; in fact, in chapter 7, a few gestures to material artifacts carry little discursive force. The title's appropriateness, however, derives from the fact that the word "archaeology" earths Nasrallah's primary interest—which is less about making interesting connections between ancient artifacts and texts, and more about subverting the agenda of solely text-based studies of the early Jesus-movement, which inevitably prioritizes theological explorations of "apostolic voices" (my phrase) while partitioning off questions about how those texts might have pertained to the lived realities of people without social profile. There is a sense that "the whole is greater than the parts" in Nasrallah's work, so that engagement with particular case studies (either to affirm or challenge them, or whatever) would be to miss the real force of her larger project. Overarching the various parts of the book is Nasrallah's clarion call for scholars of the early Jesus-movement to develop interpretive muscle toward the material world as a way of privileging forms of questioning that are ethically configured, reclaiming the agendas of those lives that were immersed in poverty and powerlessness. She poses the optimistic prospect that doing so will assist in forming the character of interpreters themselves and consequently ensuring that similar forms of questioning will be beneficially enhanced today (see especially the final pages of her Epilogue). This is where Nasrallah's book makes its most forceful contribution for readers of this interesting, erudite, and distinctive book.


1.   Page 175 refers to "first-century 4 Ezra, a text which at its core seems to be Jewish," but the specific passage ("4 Ezra 16:40–6") is part of a third-century Christian text often referred to as 6 Ezra. Page 207 references "Swetnam-Burland" instead of "Swetnam-Burnham." Page 258 speaks of "the message to Letter to the Romans." And unless I'm missing something, there seems to be some confusion about the date of Claudius's death (compare her comments on 195 and 201, with Romans being written in 55–56 but sent during the reign of Claudius).

(read complete article)


Werner Golder, Celsus und die antike Wissenschaft: lateinisch-griechisch-deutsch. Sammlung Tusculum. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2019. Pp. 911. ISBN 9783110441659. €79,95 (hb).

Reviewed by Marquis Berrey, University of Iowa (marquis-berrey@uiowa.edu)

Version at BMCR home site


The welcome period in publications for students of Celsus continues as this volume in the Sammlung Tusculum joins another recent German translation and an innovative French monograph.1 Since Celsus has been read by a medical audience primarily in selected passages in anthologies, "[d]ie vorliegende Neuarbeitung greift dieses Tradition auf und versucht sie zugleich tendenziell zu überwinden" (766) by historical contextualization of other relevant primary texts and by increasing attention to Celsus' Artes beyond medicine. Including the other Artes, contextualizing passages, and attending to the text's reception, in addition to aiming for a medical rather than primarily historical audience, distinguish this volume from competing translations on the market.

Golder's book is therefore not a complete translation but a very substantial selection of Celsus' De Medicina. The introduction briefly contextualizes Roman encyclopediaism and medicine, as well as introducing what we know of Celsus himself. Golder's are standard contemporary views, with the exception of the name of Celsus' encyclopedia. Golder refers to it (12-13) as though the title were Artes liberales but the tituli of the manuscripts and Quintilian's testimony have unanimously persuaded scholars that the title was Artes. Translated passages are anthologized in an order directed at a medical readership: the preface, then anatomy, health, diagnosis, pathology (including surgery), physical therapy, and pharmacotherapeutics, followed by historical issues of Celsus' relation to other ancient medical authors, possible sources, the Artes, and the reception of the text. A fair amount of Hippocrates and Galen are translated in order to contextualize the Celsian passages. The Latin text of Celsus is principally a reprint of Marx's CML (769); the facing German translation is fluid and clarifying but there are some occasional mismatches.2 One (304-7) of the two chapters of the Toledo supplement is translated (but U. Capitani Maia 26 (1974): 170.38-172.9 is ignored). Passages on reception and the Artes beyond medicine benefit from scholarly advances since Marx's edition.

Consider Golder's translation (620-3) of Celsus De Medicina 7.7.6B-C as a specimen of his craft:

Man muss es wagen, weil die Operation ziemlich oft gut ausgeht. Man bringe also die Sonde mit dem Stiel nach vorne ein und trenne damit die Augenlider voneinander. Dann setze man kleine Bäuschchen zwischen die Lindränder ein, bis die Vereiterung an dieser Stelle sich zurückgebildet hat. Wenn aber ein Lid mit dem Weißen des Augapfels verwachsen ist, muss man nach einer Empfehlung des Herakleides von Tarent die Adhäsionen mit der Vorderseite des Messers trennen, dabei jedoch sehr darauf achten, dass weder vom Augapfel noch vom Augenlid etwas abgeschnitten wird. Und wenn unvermeidbar, dann nehme man eher etwas vom Lid weg. Anschließend soll man das Auge mit Medikamenten salben, die die Rauigkeit beseitigen. Außerdem soll das Lid jeden Tag umgestülpt werden, und zwar aus zwei Gründen, nämlich nicht nur um das Mittel mit dem Geschwür in Kontakt zu bringen, sondern auch um zu verhindern, dass es wieder verwächst. Man muss auch den Patienten selbst dazu anhalten, das Augenlid immer wieder mit zwei Fingern anzuheben. Ich kann mich nicht erinnern, dass je einer auf diese Weise geheilt worden ist. Meges hat berichtet, dass auch er selbst viel versucht habe, jedoch niemals erfolgreich sei, weil das Augenlid immer wieder von neuem mit dem Augapfel verwachsen sei.

Golder turns Celsus' compressed technical language into sensible, everyday German instruction (auersum specillum inserendum into 'bringe also die Sonde mit dem Stiel nach vorne ein'). He makes explicit and clarifies the Latin for contemporary readers at the expense of strict literalism ('die Adhäsionen, zwar aus zwei Gründen, dann nehme man etwas weg' are all not in the Latin). Golder chooses not to equate Celsus' aspritudo with the condition trachoma (Ger. Trachom), as do Spencer and Mazzini in their respective translations, but offers instead a non-technical sense for the Latin ('die Rauigkeit'). The historical caution seems an impediment to the reader, since in his note on the passage Golder glosses it with the technical meaning. Golder's particles bring out Celsus' criticism from the way Celsus has structured the contextual ring of the operation, stretching from its announced success to his and Meges' doubts about Heraclides' technique ('je einer'). Golder's translation strategy of explication loses something of Celsus' Latinate swiftness and punch. While the loss is clearest in Celsus' moralizing passages, e.g. 7.pr.4 (124-5), Golder can replicate Celsus' pathos if not his speed in asyndeton, as in 2.4.3 (210-1), a passage where Golder's German surpasses Spencer's English Loeb in feeling. The overall translation of Celsus is a success in the evaluation of this foreign speaker of German.

The volume ends with the barest historicizing commentary on selected passages; a bibliographic overview pursuant to each section; a Stellenverzeichnis of all ancient, medieval, and early modern passages; the register of parallels in Celsus and Hippocrates; a Greek-Latin glossary; an index nominum; and an index rerum. While pedagogical illustrations to aid reading the technical anatomy and surgery were prominent in Marx's and Spencer's editions, Golder follows other recent editions in avoiding illustrations: this is perhaps a lost opportunity given the intended medical audience. The bibliography in modern European languages is mostly of good quality, although reference is given to several outdated works. The following would be useful additions:

Conde Parrado, P. 2003. Hipócrates Latino: El De Medicina de Cornelio Celso en el Renacimiento. Valladolid.
Mudry, P. 2006. Medicina soror philosophiae. Regards sur la littérature et les textes médicaux antiques (1975-2005). Lausanne.
Weber, G. 1994. "Di Celso, segreto nel De abditis" in Antonio Benivieni: De abditis nonnullis ac mirandis morborum et sanationum causis. Firenze.

As with all editions in the Sammlung Tusculum, the book is elegantly printed and glued in hardcovers with a ribbon bookmark. Printing mistakes are rare. The volume will be more profitable reading to medical practitioners than historical scholars. Still, I hope that its selection and linguistic accessibility spurs some enterprising practitioner to dig deeper and ultimately to update the 1846 German medical commentary of Scheller (reprinted by Friboes in 1906) on all of Celsus' De Medicina.


1.   Lederer, T. 2016. A. Cornelius Celsus De Medicina: Die medizinische Wissenschaft, eingeleitet, übersetzt und kommentiert. 3 Bände. Darmstadt, reviewed by B. Maire Museum Helveticum (2016) 73.2: 236-7; Gautherie, A. 2017. Rhétorique et thérapeutique dans le De Medicina de Celse. Turnhout, reviewed in BMCR 2018.02.47.
2.   For example, in 1.pr.49 (100-1) J's quaedam, not quae, must be printed for the translation 'eine Frau'; and arente must be printed for the translation 'Gangrän', whereas the printed text haerente points to a uterine inversion per Capitani.

(read complete article)


Agnès Lorrain, Le Commentaire de Théodoret de Cyr sur l'Épître aux Romains. Études philologiques et historiques. Texte und Untersuchungen zur Geschichte der altchristlichen Literatur, Band 179. Berlin; Boston: De Gruyter, 2018. Pp. xv, 390. ISBN 9783110537888. €129,95.

Reviewed by Jacopo Marcon, Institute of Textual Scholarship and Electronic Editing (ITSEE), University of Birmingham (JXM1151@student.bham.ac.uk)

Version at BMCR home site


In this book, Agnès Lorrain offers a complete overview of the Intepretatio in XIV epistulas S. Pauli of Theodoret of Cyr, the only ancient commentary on the Pauline Epistles with the whole original text in Greek; it has a focus on particular sections of the work: the Prologue and the Letter to the Romans. The author provides a thorough analysis of the commentary of the Greek Church Father from a literary, philological, exegetical and hermeneutical point of view: the first section of the book describes the style, the genre and the language of Theodoret, and investigates the interrelationships between Theodoret of Cyr, John Chrysostom and Cyril of Alexandria, whereas the second part is more focused on the theological implications of the work (the position of Theodoret on the anti-Jewish controversy and the Trinitarian and Christological debates). The book is intended for a public of specialists in the field, though its clarity in explanation and its completeness in providing extensive quotations from the original Greek text — with French translation — make it an useful tool for anyone who is involved in the study of New Testament textual criticism and in the analysis of commentaries and catenae on the Pauline Epistles.

The book opens with an introduction that gives a comprehensive panorama of the structure of the work. Lorrain proposes comparing Theodoret's exegesis with that of John Chrysostom, the main work in the field in antiquity, in order to understand how Theodoret had direct access to that text. Excluding the study of the works of Origen and Theodore of Mopsuestia, the former because it is preserved in the Latin translation of Rufinus, the latter due to the fragmentary nature of the text, Lorrain's next step is to consider how the biblical manuscripts and the text of Theodoret's commentary on Romans 1 influenced each other.

In the first chapter, Lorrain situates the commentary of Theodoret within the exegetical tradition of Romans. Alongside the commentary of Origen, preserved in the Latin translation of Rufinus, and the fragments of Diodorus of Tarsus, Theodore of Mopsuestia, Severian of Gabala and Cyril of Alexandria in the exegetical catenae, the commentary of Theodoret is the earliest complete commentary on the Pauline Epistles in Greek, with an opening prologue.2 Besides the possibility of dating the work based on the language and the theological argumentation (around the beginning rather than the end of Theodoret's career [433-448]), the analysis of the manuscript tradition and the text itself confirms a faithful reproduction of the biblical text, with the use of linking words, such as φησί, γάρ, τουτέστι, to connect the biblical lemmata to the text of the exegesis. Overall, the system of Theodoret's work is undoubtedly traditional, the style is linear and sober, and the interpretation of the Pauline text is given from a literary point of view, although the frequent change of tone and voice might confuse the reader.

The second chapter provides a complete overview of the language of the commentary of Theodoret. The author collects a huge number of expressions used by Theodoret with the help of the TLG database and critical editions of the texts. Besides the expressions inherited from previous tradition (especially John Chrysostom and Cyril of Alexandria), the distinctive feature of Theodoret is his mastery of terms that rarely appear in other authors, or that appear but with different nuances. For instance, the word κολοφών is sporadically attested in Greek Church Fathers and always with the negative meaning of "the completion of sins and evils", whereas in Theodoret it has the unique meaning of "completion of good actions". Furthermore, Lorrain acutely suggests that even if the language of Theodoret cannot precisely date the commentary itself, it can at least give a glimpse of the theological implications of his exegesis.

Chapter Three examines the richness of the Prologue from a rhetorical and literary point of view. According to Lorrain, this adheres perfectly to the tradition of the genre of the commentary and it has a triple function: "presentation du sujet", "justification de l'entreprise" and "exposé des principes".3 Furthermore, Lorrain emphasizes how the effort of Theodoret in the second section of the Prologue to retrace the chronological order of the Pauline epistles is remarkable. With a methodological approach similar to that of a historical writer, Theodoret proposes a reconstruction of the chronological sequence of the Pauline letters according to the information he finds in the epistles themselves and in the Acts.

Chapter Four makes a comparison between the homilies of John Chrysostom and the commentary of Theodoret of Cyr. According to Lorrain, the biggest differences concern the "actualization moralisante" and the "interpretations parfois violemment antijudaïques",4 which are more emphasized in the text of John Chrysostom. Lorrain analyzes in detail the work of Theodoret as a rewriter of Chrysostom: he restricts himself to selecting some passages from Chrysostom and gives only a literary explanation, in a clear and sober style, without all the moral implications of the Chrysostomian reading.

The last chapter of the book analyzes the exegetical and theological implications of the Argumentum of the In Romanos, in order to explain the doctrinal positions of Theodoret and, especially, his interpretation of the Pauline text. According to Lorrain, Theodoret's approach to the antijudaic verses is purely historical and aimed to provide a positive description of Paul rather than a concrete criticism of the Jewish community. However, if there are some features that could be interpreted as a polemic against Jews, these need to be considered as the proof of the widespread antijudaic tendency of contemporary tradition, and, especially, a legacy of the Chrysostomian reading of the Pauline text. The next two sections of the chapter shed new light on the positions of Theodoret regarding the Marcionites, Valentinians, Manichaeans and Trinitarian controversies, with the purpose of illustrating the unitarian position of Theodoret against the dualistic visions of the aforementioned heresies. In doing so, Lorrain is particularly interested in retracing the sources of the commentary, so as to confirm a comprehensive use of the traditional topoi (especially from John Chrysostom's homilies) by Theodoret, but with an independent rearrangement.

Finally, the book has a rich appendix: alongside a list of abbreviations, there is a complete bibliography with a very useful thematic organization. This is followed by a detailed list of recurrent Greek expressions in the book, with reference to the authors, and an index of biblical characters. Then, in preparation for her forthcoming critical edition of the text, Lorrain appends a list of concordances between her new edition, the Migne Patrologia Graeca, and the text of Romans, and an index of citations from the Bible, Theodoret and the Greek Church Fathers. The book ends with a list of manuscripts, including catenae, and printed editions. This study is a valuable contribution to the field of Biblical Studies and offers an innovative investigation on the commentary of Theodoret of Cyr. After the pivotal works of J. N. Guinot, 5 used by Lorrain especially for the evaluation of the sources of Theodoret and the section on the Trinitarian and heretical controversies, this monograph offers a detailed panorama of the New Testament exegesis of Theodore of Cyr for the first time. Another valuable contribution is Lorrain's thorough analysis of the relationship between Τheodoret of Cyr and John Chrysostom. Besides the previous works in the field,6 she offers an accurate philological analysis of the similarities and the differences between the two authors and a detailed reconstruction of Theodoret's working method. Furthermore, the questions posed by Lorrain suggest stimulating reflections on the sources of the commentary and on the influence of the contemporary exegetical tradition. Did Theodoret copy directly from the homilies of John Chrysostom, from an annotated Bible or personal notes? To what extent is the practice of selection, substitution, and transposition of the text of the sources related to the way of excerpting and combining exegetical material of catena manuscripts? This last question could provide a starting point for further discussion.

One of the strengths of Lorrain's analysis is the extensive quotation of sources, from the classical tradition to the New Testament works. In particular, in the chapter about the language of Theodoret, she provides an exhaustive description of the terms, with fluent French translations and an indication of the number of occurrences in Greek Church Fathers and classical authors (Homer, Aeschylus, Aristophanes, Plato…). A linguistic analysis of the words is provided as well. Overall, her method of investigation of the sources is consistent and precise: for instance, in the summary table at p. 132 Lorrain gathers a considerable amount of data from the Prologue of the In Romanos in order to illustrate the attempt of Theodoret to order the Pauline epistles chronologically.

To conclude, the book provides a very helpful guide for a comprehensive understanding of the commentary of Theodoret of Cyr, especially in combination with the forthcoming critical edition7Besides the number of translations into modern languages (including the English translation by R. C. Hill, Theodoret of Cyr. Commentary on the Letters of St. Paul. Brooklin MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 2001), we need a revised and updated edition of the text which takes into consideration the manuscripts of the direct and indirect traditions (catenae) and the previous editions of the In Romanos, especially that of Jean Paul Migne for the Patrologia Graeca.8 Such work accords with the increasing interest in the study of commentaries and catenae of the New Testament: the ParaTexBib Project led by Martin Wallraff and Patrick Andrist at the Ludwig-Maximilians-Universität München and the Catena Project led by Hugh Houghton at the University of Birmingham, alongside the revised edition of Geerard - Noret, Clavis Patrum Graecorum. Concilia. Catenae,9 testify how commentaries and catenae are a vibrant field in New Testament textual criticism.


1.   Henceforth, In Romanos.
2.   Theodoret, bishop of Cyr (393-450/460?).
3.   Lorrain, p. 92.
4.   Lorrain, p. 215.
5.   J. N. Guinot, L'Exégèse de Théodoret de Cyr and Theodoret de Cyr (Théologie historique 100), Paris, 1995; Théodoret de Cyr, exégète et théologien (= Exégète et théologien), 2 vol. (Patrimoines. Christianisme), Paris, 2012, among all.
6.   The work of P. M. Parvis (Theodoret's Commentary on the Epistles of St. Paul: historical setting and exegetical practice, diss. pro manuscripto, Oxford, 1975) focuses on the contacts between Theodoret of Cyr, Theodore of Mopsuestia and John Chrysostom, while the contributions of J.-N. Guinot (see note 4) examine the sources of the commentary of Theodoret and the contacts with his commentaries on the Old Testament.
7.   Before the publication of the forthcoming critical edition by Agnès Lorrain for the Griechischen Christlichen Schriftsteller, the most up-to-date version of Theodoret's commentary is Agnès Lorrain, Théodoret de Cyr, Interpretatio in Epistulam ad Romanos: édition, traduction et commentaire, diss. pro manuscripto, Université de Paris-Sorbonne, Paris, 2015.
8.   J. P. Migne, B. Theodoreti episcopi Cyrensis Interpretatio XIV epistularum Sancti Pauli Apostoli, PG 82, Paris, 1864.
9.   M. Geerard – J. Noret, Clavis Patrum Graecorum. Concilia. Catenae. Deuxième edition, revue et mise à jour, Corpus Christianorum. Clavis Patrum Graecorum (CCCPG 4), Brepols, 2018.

(read complete article)


Ingrid D. Rowland, The Divine Spark of Syracuse. Waltham, Ma: Brandeis University Press, 2019. Pp. 152. ISBN 9781512603057. $19.95 (pb).

Reviewed by Alexander Thomas, University of Leicester (ajt51@le.ac.uk)

Version at BMCR home site

Publisher's Preview

This short book, based on a series of lectures given at Brandeis University in 2014, brings together biography and topography in an attempt to demonstrate the role of Syracuse in the creative lives of three geniuses: Plato, Archimedes, and Caravaggio. It is clearly aimed at a general audience: no prior knowledge of classical antiquity is assumed, references are given as endnotes, and non-English words (even toponyms) are always translated. Twenty-five colour plates provide excellent illustration, with the images referenced throughout the text, which is very readable. This accessibility must be commended, and I would not hesitate to recommend this book to a non-specialist as an "alternative" guidebook to Syracuse, though it offers less that classicists or ancient historians will find original.

After a lively introduction linking ancient Syracuse with the modern city, chapters 1 and 2 provide a biography of Plato, with a focus on the role of Syracuse in the development of his philosophical ideas. The apparent aim is to show how, despite Plato's mainly negative experiences there, "Syracuse may also have given Platonic literature two of its most memorable positive images for describing the transforming impact of philosophy on the human soul." One of these images comes from the Seventh Letter (341 c-d), in which Plato compares philosophy to "a light ignited by a spark, [which] comes to life within the soul", while the other is the allegory of the cave from the Republic (516 b), in which the imagined prisoner emerges from the cave unable to see the real world due to the brightness of the sun. Although the Seventh Letter describes Plato's time in Syracuse and is addressed to his followers there, it is difficult to see what is especially Syracusan about the metaphor of philosophy as a spark. And Rowland's suggestion that the limestone quarries in Syracuse, in which Athenian prisoners from the expedition of 415-413 worked, were the inspiration for the allegorical cave from the Republic, is equally tenuous: we have no evidence that Plato ever visited the quarries, and even if he did, it is strange to suggest that any particular real cave inspired the theoretical cave in the thought experiment. After all, The Cave is not really about a cave, but about human perception of reality; we may as well ask which cat was the "inspiration" for Schrödinger's cat. The argument is anyway never fully fleshed out, as the bulk of these chapters consists of narrative history and biography: chapter 1 recounts the familiar events of Athenian political history during Plato's formative years, emphasising the failure of the Sicilian expedition and the rule of the Thirty Tyrants as key reasons for Plato's disillusionment with public life, whereas chapter 2 focuses on Plato's three visits to Syracuse, and his relationships with Dion and Dionysius the Elder. The chapter ends with the conclusion that "For Plato, Syracuse…became another Athens, similar to the city where he lived but just distant enough to provide him with a larger perspective on the world and humanity's place in it" (55).

Chapter 3 turns to consider the mathematician and inventor Archimedes. Much attention is given to his role in the defence of Syracuse during the city's siege by the Romans under Marcellus in c. 213-211, but the importance of his inventions in repelling the attackers is exaggerated: in reality, the existing fortifications of Syracuse were virtually impregnable, and the city was constantly being resupplied by sea (Livy 25.23.3). No real argument is offered as to why Syracuse was especially conducive to Archimedes' genius, other than royal patronage, which of course could be found elsewhere in the Hellenistic world. We are left with a rather cursory overview of Archimedes' life, works, and legacy. Chapter 4 jumps forward to the seventeenth century and Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, who spent a brief period in Syracuse and several other Sicilian cities. Again, there is a lot of biographical narrative before we get to the real focus of the chapter, his Burial of St Lucy, which depicts the patron saint of Syracuse after her martyrdom.

Caravaggio was a master of light and shadow, and light is the main theme of this book: the eponymous "spark" from Plato's Seventh Letter, the light which dazzles the imaginary prisoner emerging from the cave, the light which Archimedes was allegedly able to focus with mirrors to ignite Roman ships (although Rowland acknowledges that this story first appeared in Byzantine texts), and Caravaggio's painting of St Lucy, whose name comes from the Latin lux. But there seems to be no argument to unify these threads, and there is no conclusion in which to offer an overall interpretation. Much of the book is simply descriptive, quotations from ancient sources are sometimes excessively lengthy, and there are many digressions, some of which are interesting and tangentially related to the subject in hand, others less so: at pp. 48-9, for example, do we really need to know that Marsilio Ficino, the fifteenth-century Florentine translator of Plato, "had a thoroughly Italian attitude toward food—he loved it—including a predilection for that Sicilian speciality, almond cookies"?

I spotted a few factual errors, although they are fairly insignificant to the book's central focus: on p. 29, Rowland states that, after the defeat of the Athenian expedition to Sicily, Carthage "began mounting raids against its nearest neighbors, Segesta and Selinus". Aside from the fact that Segesta and Selinus were hardly neighbours of Carthage, Carthage was actually on friendly terms with Segesta, sending mercenaries to help the Elymian city against Selinus in 410, and attacking Selinus directly (with Segestaean support) in 409 (D.S. 13.43-44, 54). On the same page, Rowland writes of conflict within Syracuse in 413 between supporters of Athens and supporters of Sparta, which seems to be a misreading of Diodorus' set-piece debate (13.19.4 ff) about what to do with the Athenian prisoners of war: surely these prisoners were the only supporters of Athens left in Syracuse by this point! And at pp. 61-2, it is claimed that Hieron II "had become ruler of Syracuse by popular acclaim in 264", which conflates two separate events: his initial rise to power as Syracusan strategos in 275, and his acclamation as basileus by the allies, which is usually dated to either 269 or 264. 1

This is a book that retains the feel of a guest lecture series aimed at engaging a broad audience with colourful anecdotes and digressions. For the specialist, it re-treads familiar ground without offering much original interpretation, but for the general reader unfamiliar with the material, it will make an informative and entertaining read.


1.   B. D. Hoyos (1985), 'The Rise of Hiero II: Chronology and Campaigns 275-264 B.C.', Antichthon 19, pp. 32-56.

(read complete article)

Monday, October 28, 2019


Eric C. Smith, Jewish Glass and Christian Stone: A Materialist Mapping of the "Parting of the Ways." Routledge studies in the early Christian world. New York: Routledge, 2017. Pp. 168. ISBN 9781138202122. $116.00.

Reviewed by Michail Kitsos, University of Michigan (mkitsos@umich.edu)

Version at BMCR home site


In Jewish Glass and Christian Stone: A Materialist Mapping of the "Parting of the Ways," Smith discusses the "parting of the ways" between Judaism and Christianity in late antiquity, not on the basis of textual references, but in terms of materiality. The value of this easy-to-read book is that it looks at the intertwined identities of ancient Jews and Christians through a diverse range of material objects. Smith analyzes ancient objects—each made of different materials—that at first seem to be distinctly Jewish or Christian, to challenge the assumptions that elite texts make when they describe Jews and Christians as separate religious groups with clear-cut boundaries. Smith studies these artifacts through critical race theory, intersectionality, hybridity, and consumer theory to discuss the intersectional identity of things and people to open a window "into the lives of everyday persons, who did not recognize or respect textual boundaries" (71).

In the Introduction, "The Geographies of Identity" (1-9), Smith describes the importance of exploring the "emergence (or divergence) of Christianity and Judaism" (1) and identity-formation by studying material culture. He aims to show the nuances of Christian identity in late antiquity, especially when Jewish identity is in play, by exploring "the complexity found in the material lives and living materiality of ancient persons" (6). Giving the plan of his book, Smith anticipates his ambitious endeavor to describe a "materialist mapping of the 'parting of the ways'."

In Chapter 1, "Mountains, Valleys, and Stones" (10-25), Smith describes his methodological approach and the sources he examined to construct "a materialist account of formative Judaism and Christianity" (11). Smith's goal with his book is to provide an alternative look at Judaism and Christianity that moves beyond the typical metaphor of the "twin daughters." Without disregarding altogether the twin daughter metaphor, which has been used to describe the relationship of Judaism and Christianity stemming from second-Temple Judaism, Smith privileges another metaphor based on a third-century CE work, the De Duobus Montibus Sina et Sion. This metaphor presents "Judaism and Christianity as two mountains on a landscape" (11) to describe the relationship between Judaism and Christianity and the "parting of the ways." By examining a diverse range of artifacts made of glass, stone, clay, papyrus, paint, ink, and vellum, Smith narrates the history of people who lived in the space between Judaism and Christianity to question the clear-cut boundaries between "religions" established by modern scholarly perceptions. Smith explains convincingly that texts written by elites constructed the binary between Judaism and Christianity but these boundaries in texts did not necessarily reflect reality. He shows that people who lived in the space between Judaism and Christianity either did not conform to boundaries or these boundaries were unimportant to them. For example, he analyzes the inscription on the grave stone of a certain Germanos which bears a cross and a menorah and concludes that the inscriptions indicate the non-conformity of the deceased or, I would say, of those who chose this grave stone, with being either Jewish or Christian.

Because Smith's monograph deals exclusively with the concepts of Jewish and Christian identities within the conventions of the religions of Judaism and Christianity, Chapter 2, "Mountains: The Construction of World Religions" (26-38) is a succinct but informative exploration of the modern construction of religion, which originates in European imperialism and colonialism that imposed identities on people outside Europe and defined their religions. These constructions of religion and identity have their beginnings in the ancient period. They stem from the works of ancient Christian authors and heresiologists who wrote about Christianity as a distinctive religious phenomenon and defined themselves to distinguish themselves from the "other." These works, consequently, created boundaries between Judaism and Christianity in particular. Thus, Smith explains how when we discuss the religions of ancient Judaism and Christianity, "we are always trafficking in the language and ideology of both ancient polemicists and the early modern colonizers who invented religion as we know it" (35).

In Chapter 3, "Valleys: Intersectional, Material Antiquity" (39-60), Smith underscores the importance of materialism in the investigation of religion and in discussing the reality of boundaries between Judaism and Christianity. He describes several theoretical approaches, feminism, critical race theory, intersectionality, and hybridity, and briefly explains each one to show how each informed his study. These theories explain that individuals have more than one identity and describe the porousness, permeability, and mixture of identities.

From Chapter 4 to Chapter 9, Smith analyzes different objects, each made of different materials, to explain the intersectional identities of these objects and, through each object, the "intersectional and hybrid lives of persons" in late antiquity (72). For the study of each object, Smith draws on one or more of the theories described in Chapter 3.

In Chapter 4, "Glass: The Identities of Things" (61-76), Smith analyzes a gold glass fragment from the Catacomb of St. Marcellinus and St. Peter in Rome that bears distinctly Jewish iconography. Using the frameworks of hybridity and intersectionality, Smith argues, an object with Jewish iconography in a Christian setting shows more interaction and commingling than separation between groups, because whoever placed the gold glass there had no reservations in doing so. The glass fragment with Jewish iconography was not seen as distinctly "Jewish."

In Chapter 5, "Clay: The Economics of Belonging" (77-92), Smith uses consumer theory to examine an oil lamp from the necropolis of Beth She'arim that is adorned with a cross, an image of an oil lamp, and a seal stamp that combines images of a menorah and a cross. Smith reads the objects against consumer theory to reveal that, on the one hand, their buyers purchased the objects intentionally because they reflected their needs and, on the other hand, that their producers were making the objects to meet market demands. Therefore, Smith argues, these objects "are not transgressive of boundaries, [but] they are expressions of the way people thought about themselves" (87).

In Chapter 6, "Marble: Stories in Stone" (93-110) Smith examines four marble figurines of Jonah from Asia Minor that are now housed in the Cleveland Museum of Art and shows the processes through which objects assume multiple identities. The four Jonah figurines, which portray different phases from the prophet's life (93) and draw their thematics from the ancient Israelite context, were used in a Christian funerary milieu. In analyzing these artifacts, which combine Jewish thematics and Christian use, Smith discusses the idea of hybridity through materiality within a Jewish and Christian context because they are examples of the negotiation of the Jewish and Christian identities in late antiquity.

Chapter 7, "Paint: The Hollowness of Symbols" (111-126) investigates the menorah and the cross to show that symbols which modern constructions of religion identify as strictly Jewish or strictly Christian in reality had multiple identities. Smith states that "symbols are always shared, polyvalent, and polysemous, reflecting their origins in the intersectional layered world of antiquity" (121-122). This polysemy appears in other Jewish and Christian symbols, too, such as the lulav, ethrog, shofar, incense shovel, the Torah ark, and the Temple façade, or the dove, the fish, the vines and peacocks, the anchor, the shepherd, and the orant. Symbols have more than one meaning—not only Jewish or only Christian—and as Smith explains "any sign we find for this period that points to anything like either 'Judaism' or 'Christianity' is hopelessly entangled with the other" (122). The author concludes that people in antiquity recognized those symbols that belonged to them and used symbols "that expressed whatever it was that they wanted to express" (122).

Smith examines the Vienna Genesis manuscript in Chapter 8 "Vellum: 'Relations' in Miniature" (127-141). By analyzing this medieval manuscript, which shows "signs of drawing upon previous texts and works of art" of Jewish origin (130), Smith demonstrates that Christian manuscript illustrations follow rabbinic interpretations and Jewish "artistic conventions" (136). Christian manuscript illuminations bear Jewish textual influences, and, thus, they illustrate the interrelated relationships between Judaism and Christianity in late antiquity. As Smith argues, Judaism and Christianity "were part of shared networks of influence and learning" (137), and Christian manuscript illuminations provide little support for rigid boundaries.

The production, consumption, and cultic function of books is the focus of Chapter 9, "Papyrus: The Practice of Text" (142-158). Jews and Christians both interpreted texts and engaged in scribal activity. Jews and Christians both used the codex and the scroll and Smith explains modern scholarly assumptions that Christians used exclusively the codex and the Jews used only the scroll should not be taken at face value. The book format should be seen more within the parameters of a shared tradition. Similarly, nomina sacra and the tetragrammaton should not be taken exclusively as indicative of the Christian and Jewish origin of a text but both should be seen as arising "from the same sensibility about representing special words in writing" (149) and both stand out in the flow of the text, calling the attention of the readers to the words. Smith, thus, concludes that "Jewish and Christian manuscripts were in some continuity and conversation with one another, and that the divisions we have imagined between Jewish and Christian textual practices were not always as rigid as we thought" (152).

In Chapter 10, "The Mountains from the Valley" (159-164), Smith summarizes his argument and reflects on the "parting of the ways" from a materialist perspective. He challenges the idea that texts from Judaism and Christianity can tell us reliably about the "parting of the ways" and reinforces his criticism of the "world religions" model and of terms such as "'religion,' 'identity,' 'Jew,' and 'Christian'" (160). Smith argues that the former category promotes an understanding of Judaism and Christianity as isolated entities and the latter have been associated with the construction of binaries. Smith acknowledges that the objects he examined may not represent anything normative about Judaism and Christianity and that they are exceptional examples. However, he reminds us that "any notion of mainstream is a construct" and that what deviates from the mainstream stems from polemical literature (161). The chronological and geographical range of the objects he examines give a different picture of the "parting of the ways," which seems to have happened later than texts usually present.

In all, this is a well-written and easy-to-read book that uses modern theories to examine material objects to explore the "parting of the ways." Smith presents well-constructed and convincing arguments that offer an alternative way of reading objects with intertwined identities. This materialist approach sheds new light on the "parting of the ways;" however, reading this book, one sees that it follows a repetitive pattern. Each material object underlines the same argument. This approach is not necessarily negative, but it could be achieved with fewer artifacts. The author also does not fully explain why he uses a particular theory for each object. It seems that each theory could apply to any of the objects. Nevertheless, although the objects Smith analyzes serve the same argument, they represent the most prominent materials used in the ancient world. This approach shows the author's desire to describe that Jewish and Christian objects made of diverse materials, such as glass, clay, marble, painted images, vellum, and papyrus, exhibited hybridity and intersectionality irrespective of their material makeup. By no means do these criticisms decrease the importance and contribution of this book. Smith's monograph is a much-needed addition to the literature that studies Jewish—Christian relationships and the "parting of the ways," for it uses material and not textual evidence to investigate, analyze, and discuss the "parting of the ways" in late antiquity.

(read complete article)


Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe, Eye and Art in Ancient Greece: A Study in Archaeoaesthetics. Turnhout: Brepols, 2018. Pp. 256. ISBN 9781909400030. €95,00.

Reviewed by Ross Brendle, Converse College (ross.brendle@gmail.com)

Version at BMCR home site

Table of Contents

The intent of the volume under review is "an investigation of the dynamic inter-relationship of vision and perception," "with the aim of reconstructing how the ancient Greeks visually encountered and perceptually responded to the products of their own visual culture" (3). This is the first in a series of books based on the new methodology of archaeoaesthetics, in which "past modes of vision and perception are recovered…with the purpose of identifying the visual and perceptual contexts within which the aesthetics of a culture emerge" (3). Witcombe offers a diachronic survey of Greek visual culture based primarily on ancient literary sources, focusing on how the ancient Greeks conceptualized the art of their time—in particular Late Classical and Hellenistic art—in relation to art of earlier periods.

The first two chapters evaluate ancient literary evidence on visual culture and questions of vision and perception. While some aspects of vision are intrinsic to the mechanisms of the eye, something extrinsic leads to perception—the turning of something we see into something we know. Witcombe notes that while today "perception" encompasses sensation and conception of objects, until the 19th century "perception" only covered the function and products of the faculty of sensation, while conception was regarded as a function of the soul or the mind. Ancient philosophers do not seem to have broached the question of how perception works, thus also neglecting the issue of misperception, though they were well aware of the many ways in which vision could deceive.

Ch. 3, "Continuity and Change in Ancient Greece," addresses developments in Greek art as discussed in ancient sources. They note monumental changes in sculpture initiated by the sculptors Daedalus and Phidias. According to Witcombe, most of the gods seem to have been represented by xoana somewhere before these images were replaced or supplemented by more figural and usually much larger images. The numerous korai discovered on the Athenian Acropolis are taken to be figures in the guise of the xoanon of Athena Parthenos, matching her pose by lifting their garments with their left hands while holding out an offering in their right hands.

In Ch. 4, "Nudity in Greek Art and Culture," Witcombe argues that nudity was not inherently shameful in ancient Greece but that being nude or seen nude against one's will did evoke shame. Thus clothing did not primarily serve to cover the body or shameful parts of the body, but rather helped to establish a figure's identity and to remove the threat of shame. Athletes competed in the nude, and Witcombe argues that in doing so, they took on the guise of Apollo. Likewise, he suggests that votive kouroi represent the dedicator in the guise of a god, often Apollo but potentially also Herakles or Hermes. Attributes mark kouroi as athletic victors and thus not the deities themselves. These statues of mortals in the guise of a deity, Witcombe believes, are not meant to imitate the god himself but rather a statue of the god which is understood to be the god in human form and not his true, inexpressible form. The deity assimilated could be one other than the deity to whom the statue is dedicated, as in the kore of Nikandre—a woman in the guise of Artemis dedicated to Apollo. Likewise, the figure in the guise of the deity need not be the dedicator, as in the kore by Antenor—a woman in the guise of Athena dedicated by the male potter Nearchos. Witcombe suggests the kore could represent a female relative of Nearchos in the guise of Athena.

Ch. 5, "Imitation and Lifelikeness," discusses the style and innovations of the sculptor Daedalus, noting that he is a mythical figure, but attempting to tease out the kernel of historical truth from the legend. Witcombe argues that a shift in perception must come before a shift in the appearance of sculpture. New perceptions had to be in place before Daedalus or Phidias was spurred to change how their statues looked. The sculptor had to have the Aristotelian Final aitia in mind before the Formal aitia could be changed. Sculptors must have become dissatisfied, Witcombe maintains, with the perceptual richness of the work of their predecessors and sought ways to enhance this quality. The cause of this approach in early Archaic art (Daedalus' time) was the encounter with Egyptian art and recognition of the potential to enhance the perceptual richness of Greek statues.

Mimesis (imitation) serves to represent character and action, which are animated by personation and enactment, balanced in convincing symmetria. Sculptures can be personated through first-person inscriptions, the kore of Phrasikleia being a well-known example. The inscription is read as if spoken by the statue, bringing the deceased into the here-and-now. Numerous other statues bear first-person inscriptions, including Phidias' chryselephantine Zeus at Olympia. Witcombe also notes that personation through inscription extended to non-figural things, like various objects with dedicatory inscriptions and painted pottery with artists' signatures.

In the final chapter, "Classical Greek Aesthetics," Witcombe discusses symmetria—the means, not the cause of why Greek art looks the way it does. Athenaeus claims that sculpture was the relic of ancient ways of dancing; the rhythm and harmony of dance turned xoana into kouroi and korai and refined these forms over time. The shapes, forms, and gestures of dance carried significance, and Witcombe also finds their translation in visual art in funerary scenes on Geometric vases. Viewers would recognize the threnodes in the mourners' gestures, see the dance, and hear the song. Korai dedicated on the Acropolis reproduced a processional dance from a festival in honor of the goddess. Sculptures, then, can represent dancers in the guise of gods, warriors, celebrants, etc. Statues like Riace warrior A, in this interpretation, do not represent warriors, but rather someone (a dancer or actor) in the guise of a warrior. The aesthetics of these statues derived from the aesthetics of dance. They are realistic, that is to say lifelike, but not naturalistic in that they are not a mirror of nature. Witcombe notes that discussions of Greek art since the Renaissance have centered on idealism, the notion that Classical Greek artists strived after Plato's idea or pure Form. He argues that Classical artists did not idealize, but rather worked in an aesthetic deeply influenced by dance and its visual experience.

Witcombe draws parallels between musical modes and visual media. Different media (colors and shapes), like different musical modes, are associated with different emotions, but do not contain or represent emotions. Until the mid-fifth century, musical compositions were composed in a single mode and thus were clear and focused, which he compares to the realistic but not naturalistic Riace warrior. This singular emotion, without internal complexity, was a defining characteristic of the Severe and High Classical styles of the fifth century.

Witcombe points out that from the Greek and Roman point of view, the art of the fifth century was not a high point but a moment of transition to the "supreme accomplishments" of the fourth century. Literary sources tell us Lysippus surpassed all fifth-century sculptors, and that the "true luminaries" of painting all worked in the fourth century. Interest in the expression of feelings and emotions in the fourth century is the culmination of the pursuit of lifelikeness begun by Daedalus at the beginning of the Archaic period. Natural lifelikeness—the quality of humanness in terms of enactment and personation according to symmetria—was finally achieved in the fourth century with the shift from heroic to human representations. In this respect, Witcombe's study is really about Late Classical and Hellenistic aesthetics, even though it is presented as a diachronic view. Developments in Archaic and Early Classical sculpture are viewed as developments toward High Classical and Hellenistic art. Witcombe concludes his study with the observation that in the fifth and fourth centuries, from Phidias to Lysippus, "the aesthetics of Greek visual culture were established for all time. All the elements are present and all subsequent art … for the most part merely reproduces, repeats with different emphases, and occasionally exaggerates either form or content or both by adjusting the proportional relationships of the component variables governing symmetria" (217). This is not an especially sympathetic assessment of Archaic and Early Classical art, and implies both that everything before Phidias was somehow immature or incompletely formed and that Late Hellenistic and Roman art were essentially derivative of earlier work. Artists of the Archaic period (the hypothetical Daedalus) did not judge their own work in terms of what came after it, but rather by the idiosyncratic aesthetic standards of their own time.

Nevertheless, Witcombe's collection and analysis of written sources on the visual arts provide meaningful insights into the contemporary aesthetic values of the makers and beholders of ancient art. His suggestion that statues represent individuals in the guise of gods or warriors rather than literal warriors is perceptive of the stylized nature of ancient Greek art. The implication is, I believe, that even when an image is meant to represent a specific, historical individual, aspects like pose, attributes, and costume are carefully selected to emphasize the desired habitus of the individual rather than his or her literal appearance. However, I think at times Witcombe overstates sculpture's dependence on other art forms. It is useful to consider how music and dance influenced the work of sculptors, but the influence was certainly not unidirectional, and sculptors were undoubtedly able to invent forms on their own. They need not have been limited to depicting images of dancers inhabiting various roles.

The aims of this book and of archaeoaesthetics are intriguing, but in a book claiming to introduce a new methodology, specific methods and approaches are never laid out. The evidence presented in the book comes primarily from ancient literary sources, and Witcombe demonstrates familiarity with most of the important recent scholarship, but for the most part only discusses secondary sources as they relate to ancient sources. He draws heavily, as can be expected, on J.J. Pollitt's The Ancient View of Greek Art, and though he occasionally departs from Pollitt's views (15 n. 53), Witcombe does not make it clear how his approach differs substantially from Pollitt's. Since archaeoaesthetics is presented as a wholly new methodology, it is perhaps not surprising that Witcombe does not devote much space to responding to other scholars' claims. Nevertheless, I feel it would have been helpful to better situate his approach into a broader scholarly context.

These criticisms notwithstanding, Witcombe offers an interesting and insightful collation of ancient aesthetic values in visual art, poetry, music, and dance that will be of interest to anyone working on the overlap of any of these media. One hopes that the coming volumes in the series will provide further understanding of the method of archaeoaesthetics and its potential applications.

(read complete article)

Thursday, October 24, 2019


Kenneth Glazer, Searching for Oedipus: How I Found Meaning in an Ancient Masterpiece. Lanham; Boulder; New York; London: Hamilton Books, 2018. Pp. x, 267. ISBN 9780761870463. $19.99 (pb).

Reviewed by N.J. Sewell-Rutter (neilsewellrutter@btinternet.com)

Version at BMCR home site


This thoughtful and engaging essay charts the course of an enthusiast's lifelong engagement with Sophocles' Oedipus. It does not pretend to be a scholarly or technical contribution to the literature, but is informed by deep study and a wide frame of cultural reference.

The book has a conventional form: its argument unfolds through nine interconnected chapters, bracketed by an introduction and conclusion. The endnotes are full enough to orient the reader in the literature, and there is a substantial and very helpful Appendix containing a summary of many points of critical disagreement that have arisen in this extensively studied play. This reviewer finds no fault with form or presentation; indeed, Glazer's text has been proofread diligently, though, as we shall see, not to the total exclusion of minor factual errors.

Searching for Oedipus reads the play and interpretative material on it with energy and gusto: '[T]he more I've studied Oedipus Rex, the more meaningful I have found it. This book is the story of how, over the years, I have come to understand why it has had such an enormous impact on me and why, even after 2,500 years, it has such enduring power' (p. 7). The nine chapters proceed diachronically through both the play and Glazer's continuing studies, approximating steadily to an understanding of the work as a whole, viewed as a tragedy of three parts or 'thirds'. So, for example, Glazer candidly admits that he did not really understand the final portion of the play, the suffering and aftermath, until relatively late in life: '...the older I got, the more important it became to me' (p. 188).

Indeed, the running subtext of intellectual autobiography is the principal charm and quiddity of Searching for Oedipus. Glazer is a lawyer, a cultivated professional person with a love for this particular ancient play, and admits, as a contemporary Classical academic generally would not, that such calamities in his own background as career reverses and the deaths of colleagues in traffic accidents have served to enrich his own character and consequently his appreciation of great art. Ultimately he finds here a play about a great man, Oedipus, who has 'unparalleled character in the present...the Man Who Manned Up' (p. 195). The tragedy is not only the first detective story, not only an exercise in tragic irony, not only something that exposes dark parts of the mind, but a study in human strength and decency, something like (though Glazer does not labour the point) Aristotle's template of the decent individual in the grip of a dreadful reverse.

Inevitably, minor errors have slipped into this text that would be inexcusable in a technical monograph, but which it would be ungenerous to vituperate here.

p. 21: 'Oedipus wears a toga, not a trench coat.' No, he does not. A toga is specifically the heavy draped cloth garment worn by Roman citizens for certain formal and legal purposes, not the generic name for ancient garments. Neither Oedipus as Sophocles saw him nor Sophocles himself would ever have worn a toga.
p. 52: '"peripatea" (reversal)'; and the same spelling in the Index, p. 265. This is false to the Greek. Better to transliterate the word 'peripeteia'.
p. 77: 'Apparently, Sophocles held various priesthoods...' Yes, so we are told. Why 'apparently'?
p. 145: '...there was an important distinction in ancient Greece between a ruler who was a "tyrannus" ("tyrant") and one who was a "rex".' Yes, the distinction between tyrant and king was important, but rex is the Latin word for 'king', not a term used in contemporary Greek art or thought.

The cultural range of Searching for Oedipus is wide, involving copious and illuminating reference to cinema, modern literature and theatre. Moreover, many volumes of Classical scholarship have been read and pondered in the course of Glazer's studies, though he makes little reference to journal articles in Classics. The author is well aware of the various disputed interpretative strategies available to readers of this play, and considers carefully strategies grounded in Aristotle, Freud, heroism and so on, before ultimately opting for a modified Aristotelian view of a tragedy of character in the face of suffering.

The range of reference to ancient primary texts is rather limited: this is very much a book about Sophocles' Oedipus, and although good use is made of Homer and some other tragedies on occasions, this reviewer would have liked to see more, at a minimum, about Antigone and Oedipus at Colonus. Yes, Aristotle thought this was a paradigm, but how unique really is the play in question? There are other extant Greek tragedies about the same Labdacid family, and several plays about other characters labouring under dire curses as well.

This personal and entirely non-specialist reading of a great play of Sophocles will not teach much that is new to a typical reader of BMCR. The book does have value to Classicists as a humane engagement with a Classical text, albeit a very focused and therefore somewhat limited engagement. Its principal value, however, is not to the scholar, the teacher or the student but to the uninitiated, whom Searching for Oedipus will both inform and delight.

(read complete article)


Matthew Loar, Carolyn MacDonald, Dan-el Padilla Peralta (ed.), Rome, Empire of Plunder: The Dynamics of Cultural Appropriation. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2018. Pp. xii, 325. ISBN 9781108418423. $120.00.

Reviewed by Samuel Agbamu, King's College London (Samuel.agbamu@gmail.com)

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed at the end of the review.]

In recent years, conversations about cultural appropriation have attained prominence in mainstream discourse. The implications of processes of appropriation in contexts of global networks of power and histories of imperialism are often foregrounded in such discussions. As a very recent example, an advertisement for the Dior perfume 'Sauvage', starring Johnny Depp, has been widely castigated for participating in the perpetuation of the stereotype of Native Americans as mysterious savages, while plundering Native American cultures for symbols to be commodified.1 The prominence of such discussions may give the impression that processes of cultural appropriation are recent phenomena. While the vocabulary to describe these processes may be of recent coinage, at least in widespread usage, the mechanisms at work are not. Rome, Empire of Plunder makes an important intervention in historicising such processes of cultural intervention and in nuancing how we think about 'appropriation' in the Roman world, who its agents were, and the directions of cultural exchange. In so doing, the contributions to this volume craft a fascinating, multi-faceted picture of ancient Roman culture, echoes of which resonate in our contemporary world.

The volume takes 'cargo' as an organising concept to bring together two strands of scholarship: studies of Roman appropriation of Greek literary culture, on the one hand, and of the plunder and display of material culture, on the other. The use of 'cargo' as a shorthand for these interconnected mechanisms encompasses the web of contingences, exchanges, and interactions which saw Rome attain cultural hegemony, and also decentralises the city of Rome from discussion. In this way, the editors of the volume build on Catherine Edwards' and Greg Woolf's 2001 edited volume Rome the Cosmopolis by emphasising the agency of peripheries in shaping the centre. In the volume's project of 'locating culture', contributions draw on important works of postcolonial theory, with the volume's introduction explicitly naming Edward Said's Culture and Imperialism and Homi Bhabha's The Location of Culture. Bhabha's presence is more strongly felt than Said's throughout the volume, not only in complicating representations of unambiguous imperial agency, but also in looking to the 'in-between' spaces as the sites in which culture is produced, highlighting movement and hybridity and looking at non-elite classes as cultural agents.

Echoes of Bhabha's emphasis on liminality and hybridity are played out in the dazzling interdisciplinarity of the volume's contributions, which perhaps goes without saying given the expansiveness of the concept of cargo. All of the contributions engage in some way with the interaction between text and object. Disciplinary perspectives range from the archaeological and epigraphic to the numismatic and literary, succeeding in addressing the 'many heads of this hydra' (p.5) of cargo culture. The volume's introduction acknowledges the temporal and geographical limitations in scope, and it is true that despite the volume's project in decentralising Rome, the majority of contributions are centred on the Italian peninsula. This seems inescapable given Rome's status as imperial metropolis; while it may not be true that all roads lead to Rome, Rome at least remains a central point of reference.

The volume's contributions are organised into three parts: Interaction, Distortion, Circulation. Each part is concluded by a short intervention by one of the volume's editors, reflecting upon the main themes drawn out by the section's contributions. Overall, the organisation of the volume works very well, but naturally, some contributions would have been equally at home in another section. For example, Ayelet Haimson Lushkov's richly argued chapter on Livy's Ab Urbe Condita as a work 'mimetic of the physical city' and a 'museum… of pillage sources' (p.31) would have sat excellently with Marden Fitzpatrick Nichols' discussion of the textual plunder of Vitruvius' De Architectura. Both contributions deal with the ancient authors' handling of source material and both draw links between the authors' literary projects and the imperial cultural politics of plunder. Both also highlight the parallelism between constructing texts from plundered sources and building cityscapes from plundered material. While Haimson Lushkov's contribution is grouped with chapters on 'Interaction', Fitzpatrick Nichols' chapter is included under the sign of 'Distortion', a distinction which at times, and especially with reference to these contributions, seems forced. The intertwining processes of interaction, distortion, and circulation underpin mechanisms of appropriation, so to divide contributions between these categories at times risks detracting from the volume's highlighting of the rhizomatic interplay of cultural signifiers otherwise so well conveyed. At the same time, edited volumes need an organising structure, and this volume's arrangement of contributions generally guides the reader's attention very persuasively.

The contributions in the first part of the volume engage with the theme of interaction. Basil Dufallo's chapter looks at the way in which trade, as a vector of interaction, is conceived in Plautus' Menaechmi. The discussion hinges on the lines of the play in which (one) Menaechmus disguises himself with a palla, a Greek cloak from which comoedia palliata takes its name. When Menaechmus compares himself in this dress to Ganymede or Adonis, a complex web of cultural interactions comes into play: Roman tastes for Greek art, aristocratic disdain for the trade which furnishes the Roman elite with exotic goods, and the military success which makes this trade possible. These layers of inter-regional and inter-class interactions are woven together in the fabric of the palla and Dufallo's deft discussion of Plautus' palliata. The play between textuality and materiality remains a salient theme in the other chapters of Part I. Haimson Lushkov's above mentioned exploration of Livy's history as a literary monument, cannibalising literary sources as Roman triumphal architecture plundered the material spoils of the vanquished, segues fluently into Thomas Biggs' discussion of the Monumenta Duilii, built to display the rostra of captured Carthaginian ships after the Battle of Mylae (260 BCE).2 The rich, overlapping histories of this monument and its Augustan successors neatly demonstrate that meanings of texts and monuments remain unfixed and can change according to ideological vicissitudes. This insight is shared by Stefano Rebeggiani's chapter which turns to the multifarious meanings attached to the Pergamene Gaul sculptures of the Temple of Athena Nikephoros on Pergamon's acropolis. Originally built to celebrate Attalus' victory over a Celtic raid on Delphi in the third century BCE, these sculptures, once brought to Rome, were conveniently amenable to the commemoration of the Gallic raid on Rome in 390 BCE, at the same time as facilitating Flavian identifications with Hellenistic kingship. These latter two chapters of Part I deal with the distortion of original meanings of monuments, which allows for a seamless transition into Part II of the volume, which explicitly centres distortion through appropriation.

As already noted, Nichols' contribution on Vitruvius excellently complements Haimson Lushkov's chapter, while Jennifer Trimble and Grant Parker's respective contributions serve as monumentally Egyptianising centrepieces to Part II (perhaps even the entire volume). Trimble's contribution is the only one which devotes space to a focused discussion of a modern appropriation of an ancient Roman appropriation: that of Fascist Italy's reassembly and relocation of the fragments of the Ara Pacis. Trimble argues that the hitherto unremarked appropriation of New Kingdom Egyptian peripteral chapel forms for the Ara Pacis constitutes a sort of double appropriation. Augustus' erection of a Heliopolis obelisk as a gnomon in the Campus Martius, in conjunction with the Ara Pacis' placement, represented an appropriation of Egyptian and Egyptianising objects as components of an appropriation of Greek scientific knowledge, harnessed to measure time. Rome's 'colonisation of time' is explicitly articulated in Parker's compelling contribution on appropriations of obelisks, with a focus on the Lateran obelisk. Constantius' one-upmanship over his father, in succeeding where Constantine had faltered in the transportation of an obelisk to Rome, plugs into the wider symbolic power of obelisks, the appropriation of which announces mastery over deep time, given the association of obelisks and extreme antiquity.

It is the third part of the volume, themed around circulation, which most decisively decentres Rome from networks of cultural interaction and where the peripheries of Rome's empire take centre stage, ranging from a papyrus of Gallus' poetry from Qasr Ibrim in Lower Nubia in Micah Y. Myers' chapter to coins showing Hercules-Melqart from Hispania in Megan Daniels'. Amy Richlin's chapter, which opens this third part, focuses on mid-Republican comedians as human cargo, pointing to Terence's servile origins and compellingly linking the circulation of comedia palliata to that of enslaved humans. In this way, Richlin argues, comedians were commodities who produced commodities, namely comedy. To illustrate this conundrum, Richlin makes the strange analogy between mid-Republican comedians and Sonderkommando (p.170), a transhistorical juxtaposition which requires justification, especially given the suggestion that Sonderkommando were silent, which denies the uniqueness of their testimonies and documentation of Nazism's genocidal atrocities. She compares the circulation of comedy in the Roman world with the vaudeville circuit in the first half of the twentieth century, arguing that the circulation of comedians also circulated comedic conventions and jargon. While the comparison is illuminating, given the chapter's focus on the connection between ancient slavery and ancient comedy, shaped, as Dan-el Padilla Peralta phrases it in his summing-up, 'on the backs of the unfree', discussion of American minstrelsy and its relation to the enslavement of people of African descent could have bolstered the chapter's exploration of the tension between freedom and slavery.2

As a whole, the volume admirably succeeds in painting a vivid picture of the hybridity, dynamism, and multifaceted nature of Roman 'cargo' culture. Yet it also has a lot to say for our contemporary, globalised culture. Grant Parker warns that the concept of appropriation risks reifying cultural boundaries, paying service to Romantic, nationalist ideas of cultures as discrete entities. Failing to take account of the complex nexus of agencies and power-knowledge in processes of appropriation runs the danger of seeing culture as fixed. No such shortcomings emerge from the contributions to this volume which remain alert to Bhabha's suggestion that the location of culture is in exchange and liminality. I look forward to seeing if Padilla Peralta's parting remark bears fruit. Echoing Lacan's aphorism that 'the State is the Sewer', Padilla Peralta looks to another sort of circulation from which cargo culture cannot be extricated: 'Rome was its spoils – the Cloaca Maxima' (p.270).

Table of Contents

Introduction. 1

1. "The Comedy of Plunder: Art and Appropriation in Plautus' Menaechmi", Basil Dufallo. 15
2. "Citation, Spoliation, and Literary Appropriation in Livy's AUC", Ayelet Haimson Lushkov. 30
3. "A Second First Punic War: Re-Spoliation of Republican Naval Monuments in the Urban and Poetic Landscapes of Augustan Rome", Thomas Biggs. 47
4. "Buried Treasures, Hidden Verses: (Re)Appropriating the Gauls of Pergamon in Flavian Rome", Stefano Rebeggiani. 69
5. "Interactions: Microhistory as Cultural History", Matthew P. Loar. 82

6. "Plunder, Knowledge, and Authorship in Vitruvius' De Architectura", Marden Fitzpatrick Nichols. 93
7. "Appropriating Egypt for the Ara Pacis Augustae", Jennifer Trimble. 109
8. "Monolithic Appropriation? The Lateran Obelisk Compared", Grant Parker. 137
9. "Distortion on Parade: Rethinking Successful Appropriation in Rome", Carolyn MacDonald. 160

10. "The Traffic in Shtick", Amy Richlin. 169
11. "Agents of Appropriation: Shipwrecks, Cargoes, and Entangled Networks in the Late Republic", Carrie Fulton 194.
12. "Import/Export: Empire and Appropriation in the Gallus Papyrus from Qasr Ibrim", Micah Y. Myers. 214
13. "Annexing a Shared Past: Roman Appropriations of Hercules-Melqart in the Conquest of Hispania", Megan Daniels. 237
14. "Circulation's Thousand Connectivities", Dan-el Padilla Peralta. 261


1.   See this article by Joy Porter for the complexity of this controversy The Conversation
2.   On Mylae as part of the wider discourse of Roman 'firsts' during the First Punic War, see Biggs' earlier article: Biggs, T. (2017) "Primus Romanorum: Origin Stories, Fictions of Primacy, and the First Punic War", Classical Philology 112 (3), 332-349.
3.   As discussed, for example, in Saidiya Hartman's (1997) Scenes of Subjection (Oxford: Oxford University Press)

(read complete article)


Shawn W. Flynn (ed.), Children in the Bible and the Ancient World: Comparative and Historical Methods in Reading Ancient Children. Studies in the history of the ancient Near East. London: Routledge, 2019. Pp. 226. ISBN 9781138543768. $140.00.

Reviewed by Christoph Schmidhuber, Collège de France (christoph.schmidhuber@college-de-france.fr)

Version at BMCR home site

[Authors and titles are listed below.]

Archaeological and historical enquiries into childhood have made large methodological and analytical advances over the last two decades, equipping researchers interested in the topic with fruitful approaches. This allows for more detailed studies such as the ones collected in this volume. As the editor notes in the Foreword, the "essays demonstrate that the historical contexts are essential to understanding children" (p. x). While most essays focus on the Old or New Testaments, their wider historical context and setting is extensively addressed, and some (Bosworth, Laes) primarily focus on Graeco-Roman rather than biblical evidence, thus appealing to a wide audience.

The volume consists of 10 contributions, each dealing with specific types of sources, primarily textual evidence, but also material culture (Parker, Sheridan). All contributors have long been interested in ancient childhood and the chapters often represent self-standing complements to their authors' previous research activities, which is reflected in the high quality of the contributions and their good command of the available literature in childhood studies.

The chapters are grouped into three sections (see Table of Contents). The first two deal with literary sources and are arranged chronologically: the first contains four contributions dealing with themes in the Old Testament and other cultural contexts in the first millennium BCE, while the three chapters in the second section deal with topics in the early centuries CE. Finally, the third section "Children and material culture" considers (bio-)archaeological approaches, while the Afterword draws connections between attitudes towards female adolescence in early Christianity and today. In the following, the different contributions are presented in detail.

The contributions by Dewrell, Bergmann and Garroway consider recurring themes in the Old Testament. By focusing on how and why children appear in the respective passages considered, they formulate new interpretations for the individual passages and highlight potential intertextuality between them.

Dewrell investigates the intersection between vows and children in the Hebrew Bible, which includes (1) vows taken to request children and (2) children being vowed. In the first category, we find the Kirta epic, in which the titular protagonist loses his entire family and pleas for a new one. The second category features a peculiar case, as Hannah, the mother-to-be of Samuel, vows to dedicate her child to Yahweh if Yahweh allows her to become pregnant. On the first sight, there would be no "material benefit" from the vow (p. 6): Hannah vows the child she requests. Based on semantic analysis, however, Dewrell convincingly argues that once her womb has been opened by Yahweh for the first child, it would remain open for future children. Thus, any children born beyond the first (vowed) child, Samuel, would stay with her.

Bergmann focuses on three birth narratives from three successive generations (Rebecca, Rachel, Tamar), that each describe difficult birth labor. By comparing the three, she suggests that the complications described reflect detailed medical knowledge, which is used for a "deeper purpose as envisioned by the authors of the entire narrative about the history of the people Israel" (17). She asserts that these complications become worse with each story, but that with each birth, Yahweh's impact on overcoming these difficulties is increasing.

Garroway's contribution discusses Ancient Near Eastern expectations towards how fathers should socialize their daughters, i.e., teaching them cultural identity and proper cultural behaviors, and how a deviation from these expectations is employed in Old Testament narratives. "Girling" thus involves preparing daughters for their future role in society, namely becoming wife and mother. Combining close reading with historical contextualization, Garroway shows how, in several stories, unmarried female characters have unusual agency for a biblical context, e.g., when Zelophehad's unmarried daughters request a right to their fathers' inheritance, which Garroway asserts to be a result of an incomplete process of "girling" due to Zelophehad's untimely death. Her study underlines the patriarchal attitude reflected in the Hebrew Bible, by which fathers' failure to appropriately prepare their daughters for their expected role of wife and mother could lead to unexpected societal change, like those usually reserved for men.

The fourth contribution in this chapter compares biblical and ancient Greek evidence for child abandonment. After a very helpful and succinct introduction to anthropological approaches to parental investment, Bosworth argues that historical evidence suggests that factors such as the child's gender, illegitimacy, poverty, and disability could lead parents to abandon their children, but that this differed by society. Surveying literary abandonment stories, ranging from Moses to Telephus and Paris, he assesses to what extent these factors are involved. He asserts that in most cases, the stories served a narrative purpose of hero building: against all odds, the child was rescued and raised. Therefore, disability does not feature at all in these narratives, and because there was a "great narrative interest in male characters" (p. 51), the majority of stories concerned boys, even though in reality, girls were abandoned especially by wealthier families.

The following three chapters consider the Graeco-Roman world. Two of them deal with the interpretation of New Testament passages in relationship to other religious movements of the early centuries CE.

Betsworth studies the passage surrounding the decapitation of John the Baptist (Mark 6: 14-29), in which Herodia's daughter urges her (step-)father Herod to kill him. Starting with her observation that this is the only story in the New Testament which presents a child in a negative light, Betsworth argues that this narrative aims to contrast Christianity with a popular cult of that time, the Eleusinian Mysteries. The latter cult surrounds the narrative of Demeter, Persephone, and Hades, which thus has a similar constellation of protagonists as the New Testament story under consideration. By highlighting intertextual aspects shared by both narratives, Betsworth suggests that the author aimed in his portrayal of Herod's family not only to criticize the Roman ruling class at the time, but also to shed bad light on mother-daughter relationships which were a key component of the Eleusinian Mysteries (in contrast to the father-son relationship intrinsic to the New Testament).

A similar approach is followed by Martens. He focuses on two passages relating to children in the letters of Paul (1 Cor 7: 12-16, Gal 4: 21- 31) and revisits the much-debated question of how Paul envisaged the ritual entry of children into the church, i.e., either by birth, circumcision, or baptism. Given the previous research interest in the topic, the chapter largely accepts or refutes previous arguments, e.g., when following Elliott in linking Paul's arguments against circumcision addressed to the Galatians to the Cybele cult popular in Anatolia at the time, as this cult also involved bodily mutilation (castration). 1 Martens' interpretation of the passage from 1 Cor, in which Paul states that children born into mixed marriages (i.e., between Christians and non-Christians) would be included in the church community, is especially noteworthy. For several scholars, this suggested that church membership was bestowed by birth in general, but Martens highlights that this scenario is exceptional and not suitable for generalizations. He argues that Paul offers a transitional membership of these children and he maintains that baptism would have been the normal route to church membership for all.

The last study on the Graeco-Roman world only marginally deals with Christianity. Laes surveys the Greek and Roman literary evidence for accusations of sexual indiscretion against philosophers and teachers. He comes to the conclusion that the topic was not commonly addressed in literary sources, and mostly was a stereotype associated with "Greekness", reflecting differing attitudes towards sexual relationships in ancient Greek and Roman culture. More importantly, however, he argues that beyond this aspect of ethnicity, if "fear about sexual relationships in schools was ever expressed (…), this was very much connected to family and honor-related anxiety of the well-to- do, who are the only producers of our literary sources" (p. 129). Therefore, concern about sexual indiscretion in school was not related to psychological concerns for the children, a key component of our objections to it, but was rooted in class-identity and family values.

One study stands out chronologically and methodologically: the bioarchaeological study of human remains at the Byzantine monastery of St Stephen in Jerusalem. Despite the scientific nature of her data, Sheridan excels at explaining the relevant biological parameters considered and their implications for interpreting the data one by one. Of over 60 children found, most died during the weaning process (1-3 years). Analyses suggest that most of the children were locals, while the "origin" of the adults was more heterogenous. Sheridan draws on historical data to consider certain scenarios (oblates, school, hospital, orphanage, neighborhood children) which might have resulted in the presence of child remains at the site. By means of elimination, Sheridan concludes that the children were most likely buried at the site because St Stephen's hosted an orphanage, or because children from the local community were buried here for possible veneration.

Another material culture contribution is Parker's discussion of Judean pillar figurines, pervasive in ancient Israel in the 8-7th centuries BCE. By comparing the materiality and context of Judean pillar figurines with that of modern-day barbies, Parker confronts the scholarly exclusion of the possibility that they could have been used as toys. While this possibility is important to spell out and include in the debate about these figurines, we still lack a much-wanted methodological framework (and often suitable evidence) to investigate this possibility systematically, whether for Judean pillar figurines or other figurines and miniatures.

The collection of essays concludes with an investigation on the reception of Mary in Western Culture, with a special focus on the Protoevangelium of James. The latter focused especially on the portrayal of Mary as both ritually and sexually pure by blending concepts of purity from both Judaism and Christianity. Drawing on gender studies, Kieser highlights the liminality of adolescent female bodies and the social constraints associated with them. She also suggests that the portrayal of Mary in the Protoevangelium of James even found its way into modern Alabaman legal practice. Although at times highly political, this is a valuable case study in contextualizing Christian writing in the light of the social and cultural constructs that governed its redaction and later reception.

The presentation of this volume is extremely clear and helps readers from other disciplines to follow the authors' arguments. Each chapter contains enough background information to understand the respective contexts, and relevant text passages are mostly cited in both translation and the original language (in endnotes), although occasionally the respective biblical passages could have been quoted in full for scholars less familiar with the biblical material. An especially valuable feature is the book's bibliographic organization. The bibliographic references cited are listed in the endnotes of each chapter. In addition, the volume is concluded by an extensive, thematically organized bibliography listing studies within the historiography and archaeology of childhood.

The volume shows that the study of ancient children has progressed over the last decades, which makes collective volumes like this possible. While further conceptual and methodological studies on ancient children in different periods and regions are still needed, the volume shows that, by applying already existing theories and approaches to their material, such as "childist" approaches referenced by several contributors, novel readings of often-discussed passages can be achieved. While the editor notes that "historical contexts are essential to understanding children" (p. x), most contributions demonstrate that in turn, by taking the presence of children in narratives as a point of departure, the historical context of the passages discussed can sometimes also be better understood. The contributions are thus relevant to Biblicists, Classicists and scholars of the Ancient Near East, as well as those interested in gender, education, and childhood studies in general.

Authors and titles

Flynn, S.W.: Foreword

PART I. Children in the Hebrew Bible and the Ancient Near East
1. Dewrell, H.D.: Vows and children in the Hebrew Bible
2. Bergmann, C.D.: Turning birth into theology. Traces of ancient obstetric knowledge within narratives of difficult childbirth in the Hebrew Bible
3. Bosworth, D.A.: Uncooperative breeders: Parental investment and infant abandonment in Hebrew and Greek narrative
4. Garroway, K.H.: Failure to marry. Girling gone wrong

PART II. Children in Christian writings and the Greco-Roman world
5. Betsworth, S.: Girls and goddesses: The Gospel of Mark and the Eleusinian Mysteries
6. Martens, J.W.: Children and the church. The ritual entry of children into Pauline churches
7. Laes, C.: "Stay away from my children!" Educators and the accusation of sexual abuse in Roman Antiquity

PART III. Children and Material Culture
8. Parker, J.F.: I bless you by YHWH of Samaria and his Barbie. A case for understanding Judean pillar figurines as children's toys
9. Sheridan, S.G.: Coming of age at St. Stephens: Bioarchaeology of children at a Byzantine Jerusalem monastery (fifth to seventh centuries CE)
10. Kieser, D.M.: Protoevangelium of James, menstruating Mary, and twenty-first-century adolescence. Purity, liminality, and the sexual female


1.   S. Elliott, Cutting Too Close for Comfort: Paul's Letter to the Galatians in Its Anatolian Cultic Context (London: T & T Clark, 2003).

(read complete article)