Christians and Their Many Identities in Late Antiquity, North Africa, 200–450 CE

Christians and Their Many Identities in Late Antiquity, North Africa, 200–450 CE

Éric Rebillard
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Published by: Cornell University Press
Pages: 144
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    Christians and Their Many Identities in Late Antiquity, North Africa, 200–450 CE
    Book Description:

    For too long, the study of religious life in Late Antiquity has relied on the premise that Jews, pagans, and Christians were largely discrete groups divided by clear markers of belief, ritual, and social practice. More recently, however, a growing body of scholarship is revealing the degree to which identities in the late Roman world were fluid, blurred by ethnic, social, and gender differences. Christianness, for example, was only one of a plurality of identities available to Christians in this period.

    In Christians and Their Many Identities in Late Antiquity, North Africa, 200-450 CE, Éric Rebillard explores how Christians in North Africa between the age of Tertullian and the age of Augustine were selective in identifying as Christian, giving salience to their religious identity only intermittently. By shifting the focus from groups to individuals, Rebillard more broadly questions the existence of bounded, stable, and homogeneous groups based on Christianness. In emphasizing that the intermittency of Christianness is structurally consistent in the everyday life of Christians from the end of the second to the middle of the fifth century, this book opens a whole range of new questions for the understanding of a crucial period in the history of Christianity.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-6599-4
    Subjects: History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Note on Primary Sources
    (pp. ix-x)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 1-8)

    Binary oppositions between Christians and non-Christians are now increasingly understood as a discursive construct, part of the making of a Christian identity (see, among others, Lieu 2004, Kahlos 2007, and Perkins 2009), and therefore it has become apparent that on-the-ground confessional identities are less important than contemporary sources state. However, our view of the realities beyond the discursive structures has not yet been thoroughly reexamined. Scholars acknowledge the difference between the social experience and the discursive construct of our sources, but their focus is mainly on discourse. This state of affairs is partly the result of the relatively recent conversion...

  6. Chapter 1 Setting the Stage: Carthage at the End of the Second Century
    (pp. 9-33)

    In his magisterial study of Tertullian, Timothy Barnes notes: “It can surely be no accident that Tertullian’s three earliest extant works are De Spectaculis, De Idololatria and what appears in modern editions as the second book of De Cultu Feminarum. All three address themselves to similar problems: how ought Christians to live out a life of faith in a pagan society?” (1985: 93). To present the conciliation of Christian faith and social life in Carthage at the end of the second century as a problem is to implicitly adopt Tertullian’s own point of view. Indeed, most scholars have underestimated how...

  7. Chapter 2 Persecution and the Limits of Religious Allegiance
    (pp. 34-60)

    In the Historia ecclesiastica, Eusebius describes a succession of periods of persecution and periods of peace corresponding to the reigns of different emperors. However, Eusebius’s view of these events is skewed by his contemporary circumstances, and his narrative of the persecutions is, as a result, distorted by a number of erroneous assumptions (Barnes 1985:149). There is now general agreement among historians that before the reign of Decius there was no imperial legislation against the Christians (De Ste. Croix 1963; Barnes 1968),¹ and that Decius himself did not even have the Christians in mind when he issued his edict (Rives 1999)....

  8. Chapter 3 Being Christian in the Age of Augustine
    (pp. 61-91)

    Our study resumes with Augustine’s ordination as bishop of Hippo in 395 (for the date, see Lancel 2002: 184–185). The status of Christians in the Roman Empire has changed greatly in the interim. By this time Christianity has been legal in North Africa for nearly a hundred years, a fact that, as Augustine reminds his audience (serm. 62.15), makes a crucial difference to Christians’ standing in the Empire. In several texts, he derides the pagans as now being only a tiny minority that lives in fear and shame (serm. 198auct [Dolbeau 26].8; serm. 306B [Denis 18].6; cons. euang. 1.14.21;...

  9. Conclusion
    (pp. 92-98)

    That Christianness did not define early Christians’ experience in all of their interactions is not in itself an unexpected conclusion. Nevertheless, I think that it has been fruitful to focus specifically on the intermittency of Christian religious identity, as this has typically been underemphasized in early Christian studies. In the preceding chapters, my goal was not to show that Christians enjoyed “normal” day-to-day relations with non-Christians (a point conceded by most scholars of early Christianity), but to argue that Christianness was only one of a plurality of identities available to be activated in a given situation (a point too often...

  10. Notes
    (pp. 99-108)
  11. Bibliography
    (pp. 109-126)
  12. Index
    (pp. 127-134)