The Power of Sacrifice

The Power of Sacrifice: Roman and Christian discourses in conflict

Copyright Date: 2007
Pages: 285
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  • Book Info
    The Power of Sacrifice
    Book Description:

    In this work, George Heyman offers a fresh perspective on the similarities between pagan Roman and Christian thinking about the public role of sacrifice in the first two and a half centuries of the Christian era.

    eISBN: 978-0-8132-1694-2
    Subjects: Religion

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. ix-xxviii)

    The quotation above is posed by the author of 4 Maccabees as a collective voice for the seven brothers killed by Antiochus IV in the second century bce. It encapsulates both the fascination and the paradox of the martyrs’ sacrifice. As a youngster I was captivated by the stories and legends of Jews and Christians who fearlessly sacrificed their lives rather than submit to the tyranny of their Graeco-Roman overlords. These texts, commonly called martyrologies, are enthralling because they transport the reader into a world in which heroic victims, pitted against multiple forms of adversity, are always victors.

    As a...

  5. CHAPTER ONE Roman Religion and Sacrificial Practice
    (pp. 1-44)

    ACCORDING TO OVID, death, sacrifice, and religion were at the center of the founding of the city of Rome. As Romulus marked out the lines for the new city wall, he prayed to Jupiter, Mars, and Vesta. Receiving a favorable augury he marked out the sacred space of the new city and instructed Celer to kill anyone who would cross the furrow. Unaware of this ban, Romulus’ twin brother, Remus, inadvertently leapt across the boundary and was killed.¹ Sacrifice, religion, and politics were interwoven in the lives of the ancient Romans. From its foundation as a city, Roman religious discourse...

  6. CHAPTER TWO The Roman Imperial Cult
    (pp. 45-94)

    OVID QUIZZICALLY MUSES in Book XV of the Metamorphoses, “I think there’s nothing that retains its form for long.”¹ Written at the beginning of Rome’s imperial period, Ovid’s work attested that the gods, humans, and politicians are not exempt from change. This was especially evident during the dictatorship of Julius Caesar and the long tenure of his adopted heir Octavian. The goal of this chapter is to examine the developments that led to the sacrificial cult that was associated with the Roman emperor. This imperial cult was both continuous with the traditions of Roman religion as outlined in chapter one,...

  7. CHAPTER THREE The New Testament and the Discourse of Sacrifice
    (pp. 95-160)

    BY THE TIME Jesus died in the early first century of the Common Era, sacrifice was already a fixed part of the Graeco-Roman politico-religious environment. It ritualized the balance of human and supernatural power that was thought necessary to maintain the fragile equilibrium of the cosmos. As a ritual practice in the Graeco-Roman world, sacrifice both ensured divine favor and symbolized imperial control throughout the empire. Ruled by imperial control, local communities of the Greek east and Latin west offered sacrifices as an extension of the imperium. The imperial cult thus assured local civic magistrates the largess of imperial benefaction...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR The Sacrifice of the Martyr
    (pp. 161-218)

    IN THE Acta Proconsularia Sancti Cypriani, the Roman proconsul of Africa, Aspasius Paternus, summoned the Christian bishop Cyprian after having received a letter from Rome in the year 257 summoning “all who do not practice Roman religion … to acknowledge Roman rituals” (italics added).¹ A widespread persecution of the Christian clergy that had begun under Decius in 250 ce was revived in 257 under Valerian and Gallienus. Because Cyprian refused to acknowledge the rituals of official Roman religion, he was treated as an enemy of the gods and a traitor to the Roman state. The “Roman rituals” referred to in...

  9. 5. Conclusions
    (pp. 219-236)

    IN REFLECTING ON THE CLASH between early Christianity and ancient Rome, Adolph Deissmann observed almost one hundred years ago that “solemn concepts” of the “cult of Christ” happened to coincide with the “Imperial Cult” of the Roman emperor.¹ The task throughout this study has been to explore one of those “solemn concepts,” namely how the idea of sacrifice functioned in a pivotal manner for both the ancient Romans and the early Christians. While Deissmann saw a “polemical parallelism” between the ideas shared between the imperial cult and Christianity, I have argued the opposite. Both groups drew effectively from a common...

  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 237-252)
  11. Index
    (pp. 253-256)
  12. Back Matter
    (pp. 257-257)