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Between Pagan and Christian

Between Pagan and Christian

Christopher P. Jones
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Harvard University Press
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  • Book Info
    Between Pagan and Christian
    Book Description:

    Who and what was pagan depended on the outlook of the observer, as Christopher Jones shows in this fresh and penetrating analysis. Treating paganism as a historical construct rather than a fixed entity, Between Christian and Pagan uncovers the fluid ideas, rituals, and beliefs that Christians and pagans shared in Late Antiquity.

    eISBN: 978-0-674-36951-1
    Subjects: Religion, History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Note on Authors
    (pp. vii-xii)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xiii-xvi)
  5. CHAPTER ONE The Perception of Paganism
    (pp. 1-8)

    In one of his great missionary journeys, Paul of Tarsus, a Jewish convert to Christianity, came to Athens. Now far declined from its days of imperial greatness, the city was still the heart of Hellenic culture, and Paul found it to be “full of idols”(kateidôlos). He began to preach in the public space of the Agora, where certain of the philosophers for which the city was renowned considered him “an announcer of strange divinities (daimonia).” They brought him before city’s senior and most exclusive body, the Areopagus, and asked him to explain his teaching, “since you bring certain strange...

  6. CHAPTER TWO Constantine
    (pp. 9-22)

    Paul’s speech before the Areopagus represents the first attempt of a Christian to explain his faith to pagans. Both Paul and his fellow apostle Peter died in a persecution under Nero, and for another two and a half centuries Roman authorities tried to force Christians to sacrifice to the gods or to emperors, with imprisonment or grisly death as the penalty if they refused. The process of explaining the new belief nonetheless continued, and has left many works of literature from the second century down to the fifth or sixth. More effective than these, though now largely invisible, was the...

  7. CHAPTER THREE After Constantine: Indifference and Intolerance
    (pp. 23-33)

    Constantine’s attitude toward his pagan subjects exhibits a mixture of toleration and intolerance, severity and indifference. From this disconcerting variation, some have inferred that he was a political animal using religion merely as a tool, others that he was a convinced Christian from the moment of his conversion who seized every opportunity to stamp out paganism. But Constantine had more immediate business than to make his subjects follow the example of his own conversion, even had such a project been possible when the majority was still pagan. As a Christian, he took immediate steps to secure peace within the Church,...

  8. CHAPTER FOUR God and Other Divinities
    (pp. 34-46)

    Two of the principal labels pinned on pagans by Christians were “polytheists” and “idolaters.” The two ideas are inseparable: since the plurality of pagan gods found its starkest expression in their visible images, and since pagans usually offered sacrifice to their gods in their imaged forms, “idolatry” in Christian eyes implied both ascribing divinity to mere matter and a repellent form of sacrifice, made worse by the accompanying rituals of slaughter. Yet despite this apparent gulf between the two sides, the Christian community enjoyed its strongest growth in the polytheistic world, which it finally displaced at least within the borders...

  9. CHAPTER FIVE Idolatry
    (pp. 47-60)

    Polytheism was one of the principal charges made by Christians against pagans, but it was inseparable from the charge of “idolatry,” and as with disputes about the nature of godhead it is necessary to go far back to understand the issues. Both subjects led to grave internal divisions among Christians, and thus sharpened their debates with “those outside.” The abhorrence of “idols” is a recurrent theme of the Hebrew Scriptures, which most early Christians knew in the Greek version of the Septuagint. The crucial text was the First Commandment read in conjunction with the Second: “You shall have no other...

  10. CHAPTER SIX Sacrifice, Blood, and Prayer
    (pp. 61-77)

    The african tertullian, who wrote approximately between 195 and 215, is the first author of Christian Latin literature. His speechOn Shows (De spectaculis)is a denunciation of the entertainments adored by pagans—gladiatorial combat, chariot racing, the theater—in which his aim is both to denounce pagans for their addiction to such shows, and to deter Christians from the temptation of watching them. The most violent spectacle was gladiatorial combat, and Tertullian throws a brutal challenge at his Christian readers: “Do you want some blood? You have the blood of Christ.”¹

    The question goes far beyond the problem of...

  11. CHAPTER SEVEN Debate
    (pp. 78-89)

    The christian New Testament embodies several forms of debate both within the Christian community and with outsiders, whether Jew or pagan. Paul’s speech before the Athenian Areopagus is preceded by his discussions with several such groups: “He conversed in the synagogue with the Jews and the worshipers, and also in the agora every day with anyone there. Some of the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers argued with him, and some said, ‘What can this babbler (spermatologos) mean?’” The book of Acts itself has been seen as a contribution to a debate, though there is no agreement as to the parties involved—...

  12. CHAPTER EIGHT Conversion
    (pp. 90-106)

    It was a fundamental duty of Christians to bring outsiders, both Jew and gentile, into the “way” of the community. According to Mark, Jesus’s last injunction to his disciples was: “Go forth to every part of the world, and proclaim the Good News [euangelion] to the whole creation. Those who believe it and receive baptism will find salvation; those who do not believe will be condemned.” Similarly Matthew, except that in his account Jesus orders the disciples to baptize “in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit.” Acts shows Peter, Paul, and other disciples carrying...

  13. CHAPTER NINE The West
    (pp. 107-125)

    In italy, the heart of the old Roman Empire, the later history of paganism runs very differently from its history in the East, where the New Rome survived until 1453. In the East, Hellenism continued to draw its strength from Greek literature, art, and philosophy, and from religious traditions that were still vigorous in urban centers such as Athens, Heliopolis, and Carrhae. In the West, Rome was the repository of the national religion, though Etruria maintained some of its ancient power as a source of ritual, particularly in matters of divination. Yet Rome had long since become a cauldron of...

  14. CHAPTER TEN The East
    (pp. 126-143)

    In the East as in the West, there is a difference in the progress of Christianity as between cities and countryside, but in the East progress was slowed or hastened by conditions that did not apply in the West. On the one hand, the long intervals of peace with Persia, and the finally successful repulse of Huns and other invaders, gave time for Christianity to put down roots in regions that had been strongly pagan. Yet the prestige of Hellenic culture, acknowledged by Church Fathers such as Gregory of Nyssa, enabled the pagan intelligentsia of cities like Athens and Aphrodisias,...

  15. CHAPTER ELEVEN Conclusion: The Persistence of Paganism
    (pp. 144-148)

    There are no census figures to record how fast the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity occurred. In Egypt, where conversion may have been unusually rapid, it has been estimated that pagans enjoyed a large majority in 300, had lost it by 325, and were a small minority by 400. In that year, a group of monks visiting Egypt from Palestine found not a single pagan in the city of Oxyrhynchus. By 600, the portion of remaining pagans within what had been the borders of the empire must have been relatively small.¹

    The numerical change is only one of...

  16. APPENDIX: Was Macrobius a Christian?
    (pp. 151-158)
  17. Timeline
    (pp. 159-162)
  18. Abbreviations
    (pp. 163-166)
  19. Notes
    (pp. 167-196)
  20. Index
    (pp. 197-207)