Podcast series 3: Diversity in early Christianity: “Heresies” and struggles

All episodes and series in my podcast (including some that are yet to be released) are available on my podcast collection page on archive.org (in various file formats and sizes) and those already released are available under the podcast category on my own website here.   This is one of several posts where I gather together each of the individual series in the podcast so that you can access or link to a specific topic.

Here are all half-hour episodes (in mp3, about 40 MB each) in the “Diversity in early Christianity: “Heresies” and struggles” series (covering the early Christian apocrypha, Nag Hammadi documents, and other non-canonical materials) in playable and downloadable formats:

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Podcast 3.1: Introduction to Diversity – A Schism in John’s Community, part 1
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Podcast 3.2: A Schism in John’s Community, part 2
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Podcast 3.3: Docetic and Judaizing Opponents of Ignatius
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Podcast 3.4: Docetic and Judaizing Opponents of Ignatius, part 2
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Podcast 3.5: Diversity in Asia Minor – A Regional Case Study
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Podcast 3.6: Sources for the Study of Diversity – Gnostic, Apocryphal, Patristic
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Podcast 3.7: Jewish Followers of Jesus, part 1 – Ebionites
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Podcast 3.8: Jewish Followers of Jesus, part 2 – Pseudo-Clement
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Podcast 3.9: Marcionites and the Unknown God
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Podcast 3.10 Introducing Gnostic Worldviews
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Podcast 3.11: Secret Book of John, part 1 – The Spiritual Realm
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Podcast 3.12: Secret Book of John, part 2 – Salvation from the Material Realm
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Podcast 3.13: The Wisdom of Jesus Christ and Middle Platonism
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Podcast 3.14: The Gospel of Philip, part 1 – Ideas of Salvation
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Podcast 3.15: The Gospel of Philip, part 2 – Ritual Enactments of Salvation
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Podcast 3.16: The Gospel of Mary – Secret Knowledge from the Ultimate Disciple
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For reading suggestions on this topic, please see the course outline.

Podcast series 2: Early Christian portraits of Jesus

All episodes and series in my podcast (including some that are yet to be released) are available on my podcast collection page on archive.org (in various file formats and sizes) and those already released are available under the podcast category on my own website here.   This is one of several posts where I gather together each of the individual series in the podcast so that you can access or link to a specific topic.

Here are all half-hour episodes (in mp3, about 40 MB each) in the “Early Christian portraits of Jesus” series in playable and downloadable formats:

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Podcast 2.1: Introduction to the Gospels as Portraits of Jesus
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Podcast 2.2: Mark’s portrait of Jesus – Suffering Son (part 1)
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Podcast 2.3: Mark’s portrait of Jesus – Suffering Son (part 2)
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Podcast 2.4: Matthew’s portrait of Jesus – New Moses (part 1)
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Podcast 2.5: Matthew’s portrait of Jesus – New Moses (part 2)
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Podcast 2.6: Luke’s Portrait of Jesus – Prophet Elijah (part 1)
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Podcast 2.7: Luke’s Portrait of Jesus – Prophet Elijah (part 2)
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Podcast 2.8: John’s Portrait of Jesus – Son and Word (part 1)
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Podcast 2.9: John’s Portrait of Jesus – Son and Word (part 2)
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Podcast 2.10: Hebrews’ Portrait of Jesus – Highpriest Melchizedek, part 1
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Podcast 2.11: Hebrews’ Portrait of Jesus – Highpriest Melchizedek, part 2
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For reading suggestions on this topic, please see the course outline.

Podcast series 1: Paul and his communities

All of the episodes and series in my podcast (including some that are yet to be released) are available on my podcast collection page on archive.org (in various file formats and sizes) and those already released are available under the podcast category on my own website here.

As usual, Mark Goodacre has good ideas.  Mark has pointed out that it would be good to have a way of linking to all of the episodes of a particular series in my podcast (rather than the podcast as a whole).  This way someone that is wanting to link to historical Jesus material only, but not to Paul or some other topic, would be able to link to a page with just my historical Jesus series.  (This would also help those who are attempting to integrate a particular series in the podcast into a course — I’m talking to you, AKMA).  So what I’ll do is create a single blog post for each of the series which contains all of the episodes in that series in playable and downloadable formats.

To begin with here are all of the half-hour episodes (in MP3, about 40MB each) from series 1, “Paul and his communities”:

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Podcast 1.1: Paul in his own words
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Podcast 1.2: The Situation at Thessalonica
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Podcast 1.3: Paul’s response to Jesus-followers at Thessalonica
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Podcast 1.4: Paul and the followers of Jesus at Corinth, part 1
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Podcast 1.5: Paul and the followers of Jesus at Corinth, part 2
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Podcast 1.6: Paul and the followers of Jesus at Corinth, part 3
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Podcast 1.7: Paul and the situation in Galatia
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Podcast 1.8: Paul’s response to the Galatians
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Podcast 1.9: Paul and the situation at Rome
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Podcast 1.10: Paul’s response to the Romans
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Podcast 1.11: Legacies of Paul – Women’s leadership, part 1
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Podcast 1.12: Legacies of Paul – Women’s leadership, part 2
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For reading suggestions on this topic, please see the course outline.

Paintings of Pompeii 1: Villa of the Mysteries of Dionysos (Villa Item)

I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit Pompeii and Herculaneum a few weeks back in connection with the Society of Biblical Literature conference in Rome (where I presented a paper from my upcoming book).  The populations of both of these ancient towns were wiped out by the volcanic eruption of mount Vesuvius in 79 CE, and no subsequent building was done over the ruins.  So these are among the best preserved ancient cities to see.  One major result of the trip is that I now have about 1000 new photos relating to artifacts from the Roman era.  Among these are many photos of mosaics and paintings or frescoes from Pompeii (and some from Herculaneum).  So I’ll have a series of posts on some of these paintings (also drawing on some information found in Irene Bragantini and Valeria Sampaolo, La pittura pompeiana Naples: Museo Archeologico Nazionale di Napoli, 2009).

The majority of paintings from Pompeii are now removed from Pompeii and preserved in the National Archeological Museum of Naples (Museo archeologico nazionale di Napoli).  However, some are still in their original find-spots (in situ).  One of the most incredible wall-paintings from antiquity can still be found within a rather large home on the outskirts of the original town of Pompeii.

Mysteries of Dionysos

This home is known as Villa Item or Villa of the Mysteries, due to the paintings that decorated one of its banqueting halls.  This banqueting hall may also have been used in connection with initiations in the mysteries of Dionysos (Bacchus).  I have discussed the mysteries and Dionysos’ mysteries specifically on one of my websites, so I would suggest you read that first.  Right now I’d like to supplement my earlier discussion of the mysteries by supplying photos of the paintings which seem to depict stages in the initiation process and related mythological scenes.

The paintings seem to depict both the devotees of Dionysos in various stages of participation in initiation rites and mythological scenes which intersect with the progress of initiation itself.  The exact interpretation of these paintings is, of course, debated, but I will give a basic description with some consultation of M.P. Nilsson (The Dionysiac Mysteries of the Hellenistics and Roman Age [Lund: Gleerup, 1957], 66-78) and Walter Burkert (Ancient Mystery Cults [Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1987], 95-96).

*****

Scene 1 Villa of the Mysteries

Scene 1 – Preparations (north wall, on your left as you enter):

A naked boy reads from a papyrus scroll as two women of the house listen and a third woman carries a dish towards the next scene.

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Scene 2 – Preparations and segue to mythical or revelation scenes (north wall, on your left as you enter):

A seated woman (with back facing us) uncovers a tray with her left hand while receiving liquid into a dish with her right hand, perhaps cleaning her hands (Burkert) or making an offering to the god (Nilsson).  To her right is a mythical scene depicting a silenos playing the lyre, a boy playing a flute, and a girl suckling a goat.  Further to the right, a partially clothed woman runs in fear (perhaps running from the flogging scene on the opposite side).

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Scene 3 – Mythical scene with Silenos, Dionysos, and threatening winged female figure (east wall, straight ahead as you enter):

This may be a depiction of the revelation of the god Dionysos to the initiate.  A drunken and scantily clad god Dionysos, accompanied by Ariadne, is seated in the centre as a Silenos shows something (or offers a drink) to a boy (satyr?) while another boy holds up a theatrical mask.  To the right, a partially clothed woman lifts a veil to reveal the contents of a basket, likely the phallic symbol associated with initiation into the mysteries of DIonysos.  A threatening mythical figure appears on the far right (see next photo).

*****

Scene 4 – Flagellation and dancing woman (east and south walls):

A winged, mythical figure winds up to flog a woman (initiate-to-be?) with a rod or wand (thyrsos).  The woman lays her head in the lap of another woman for protection from the threatening figure.  To the right, a woman (same initiate who was previously flogged?) dances naked while playing finger-cymbals over her head and another woman holds a reed or wand (thyrsos), a symbol of the god Dionysos.

*****

Scene 5 – Seated woman being adorned by cupids

Podcast 3.16: The Gospel of Mary – Secret Knowledge from the Ultimate Disciple

Here I discuss this dialogue gospel in which Mary Magdalene is presented as Jesus’ favourite disciple and the instructor of true knowledge. I explore notions of salvation in terms of the ascent of the soul, as well as the way in which this writing reflects struggles among different groups of Jesus-followers. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.16: The Gospel of Mary – Secret Knowledge from the Ultimate Disciple (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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You may also subscribe to this and subsequent episodes through iTunes or another podcatcher. View credits for my introductory music.

Podcast 3.15: The Gospel of Philip, part 2 – Ritual Enactments of Salvation

Here I finish the discussion of the Gospel of Philip by focusing on the way in which notions of salvation were enacted in the practices of the followers of Jesus who used this writing. In particular, rituals such as the “bridal chamber” illustrate the connections between sex (as a metaphor) and salvation in the mindset of this author. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.15: The Gospel of Philip, part 2 – Ritual Enactments of Salvation (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 3.14: The Gospel of Philip, part 1 – Ideas of Salvation

Here I discuss the Gospel of Philip (perhaps best known in connection with the Da Vinci Code). This episode deals with the author’s worldview and ideas about the condition of humanity, preparing the way for a second episode on the practices and rituals that enacted salvation. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.14: The Gospel of Philip, part 1 – Ideas of Salvation (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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You may also subscribe to this and subsequent episodes through iTunes or another podcatcher. View credits for my introductory music.

Honouring the Gods in the Roman Empire – new podcast series

I have been busy creating a new podcast series, titled Honouring the Gods in the Roman Empire.  This series is somewhat different in style.  Usually I am adapting and editing my recorded lectures (that are performed from point form notes).  Instead, this series involves me sitting down at the computer and microphone for a half-hour or so after I meet with my graduate class on Honouring the Gods in the Ancient Mediterranean (course outline, discussion notes).  I then spontaneously discuss some important issues and sources regarding the topic of the week.  This series is already partially available on my podcast archive.org page (but will be officially released in the podcast feed next Fall, before I release the historical Jesus series, which is also available on archive.org now).

Here are the episodes I have created so far, which you will find on my podcast archive.org page, where you can click on browse episodes starting with recent additions:

Podcast 4.1: Introduction to Honouring the Gods
Podcast 4.2: A City and Its Patron Deity – Artemis of Ephesus
Podcast 4.3: Salvation from the Gods – Asklepios at Pergamum
Podcast 4.4: Messages from the Gods – Apollo at Claros and Didyma
Podcast 4.5: Justice from the Gods in Lydia
Podcast 4.6: Honouring the Emperors as Gods

Please let me know what you think of this experiment (I notice about 25 people had already found and listened to several episodes before I mentioned its existence).

Podcast 3.13: The Wisdom of Jesus Christ and Middle Platonism

Here I use two related Nag Hammadi writings — Eugnostos the Blessed and The Sophia of Jesus Christ — as a window into forms of Christianity that were heavily influenced by Middle Platonic philosophy, particularly in regard to cosmology and the divine Triad. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.13: The Wisdom of Jesus Christ and Middle Platonism (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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You may also subscribe to this and subsequent episodes through iTunes or another podcatcher. View credits for my introductory music.

Podcast 3.12: Secret Book of John, part 2 – Salvation from the Material Realm

Here I continue to explain the worldview of the Apocryphon of John, particularly its notions regarding the material realm, the inferior creator god (demiurge), and salvation from this realm. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.12: Secret Book of John, part 2 – Salvation from the Material Realm (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 3.11: Secret Book of John, part 1 – The Spiritual Realm

Here I begin to explain the worldview of the Apocryphon of John, one of the Nag Hammadi writings (part 1 of 2). Like other writings in that collection, this author makes a clear distinction between the perfect spiritual realm, also known as the “fullness”, and an inferior material realm created by a jealous god or “ruler” (archon). In this episode I describe the perfect spiritual realm and the process of emanations from the perfect “Invisible Spirit” or “Father”. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.11: Secret Book of John, part 1 – The Spiritual Realm (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 3.10: Introducing Gnostic Worldviews

Here I set the stage for the study of specific Nag Hammadi and related writings by outlining in broad terms some common denominators in the worldviews traditionally labeled “gnostic”. This includes discussion of the Middle Platonic assumptions of many authors. I also deal with the importance of knowledge (gnosis) in the understanding of how salvation from the material realm, which was created by an inferior god, takes place. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.10: Introducing Gnostic Worldviews (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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You may also subscribe to this and subsequent episodes through iTunes or another podcatcher. View credits for my introductory music.

Podcast 3.9: Marcionites and the Unknown God

Here I explore Marcionite forms of Christianity, which contrast significantly to the Judean forms discussed in the previous episode. Followers of Marcion believed that the legalistic God of the Hebrew Bible was to be distinguished from the loving, unknown Father-God who sent Jesus, and that Law was opposed to Gospel. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.9: Marcionites and the Unknown God (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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You may also subscribe to this and subsequent episodes through iTunes or another podcatcher. View credits for my introductory music.

Podcast 3.8: Jewish Followers of Jesus, part 2 – Pseudo-Clement

Here I continue to explore Jewish followers of Jesus by examining key passages in an apocryphal novel attributed to Clement of Rome, also known as the Pseudo-Clementine writings. In particular, an opening letter claiming to be written by Peter to James and the story of Peter’s debates with Simon Magus (a cipher for Paul) provide glimpses into struggles between Jewish followers of Jesus and others, including Pauline forms of Christianity. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.8: Jewish Followers of Jesus, part 2 – Pseudo-Clementine Writings (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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You may also subscribe to this and subsequent episodes through iTunes or another podcatcher. View credits for my introductory music.

“The Historical Jesus in Context” podcast episodes and the strike

A very long strike  has come to an end and my students have a test to be written soon after they return (the second week back, Thursday February 12 at 8:30am, to be precise).  A proposed revised syllabus for HUMA 2830 is now posted for discussion.

In an effort to help them in preparing for that and in refreshing their memories, I have been working hard on preparing as many podcast episodes as possible based on the lectures earlier this Fall, and have made only minor progress (it takes some time in editing and introducing each episode).  I am not completely happy with the shape of these episodes, but they are at least something.  One thing I do really like for sure is the opening music I am using, which is “Paradise Lost” by Namgyal Lhamo of Tibet (used under a creative commons-type license from “Podsafe audio”).

The podcast series will be “The Historical Jesus in Context” and below is a preview of the first 13 six, ten or so episodes, each of them about 30 minutes long (to be officially released in 2010 — I’ll see if I can prepare more and add them to this post soon):

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Podcast 5.1: Studying the Historical Jesus – Sources and Problems, part 1

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Podcast 5.2: Studying the Historical Jesus – Sources and Problems, part 2

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Podcast 5.3: Studying the Historical Jesus – Sources and Problems, part 3

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Podcast 5.4: Scholarly Portraits of the Historical Jesus, part 1 – Crossan

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Podcast 5.5: Scholarly Portraits of the Historical Jesus, part 2 – Sanders

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Podcast 5.6: Jesus, Galilee, and Israelite History, part 1 – To the Second Temple

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Podcast 5.7: Jesus, Galilee, and Israelite History, part 2 – To the Time of Jesus

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Podcast 5.8: Jesus, the Galilean and Judean

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Podcast 5.9: Jesus in the Context of Educated Groups and Leaders

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Podcast 5.10: Jesus and his Mentor, John the Baptizer

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Podcast 5.11: Jesus as Teacher, part 1 – Method and Content

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Podcast 5.12: Jesus as Teacher, part 2 – Present or Future Kingdom?

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Podcast 5.13: Jesus as Healer and Exorcist

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Podcast 5.14: Jesus as Prophet

UPDATE: There is just one more episode to edit in this series (on the role of Messiah).  I have changed this to series five (rather than four), since series four will be “Honouring the Gods in the Ancient Mediterranean” (on Greco-Roman religions generally).

An ancient Sugar Ray Leonard, a deceased Cynic philosopher, and a colleague of Marcion at Sinope

I’ve been making my way through The Inscriptions of Sinope, the latest in the series on Greek inscriptions of Asia Minor (bibliography below).  Sinope was a Greek city on the northern coast of Turkey.  Its location on the Black Sea made it important for sea trade, and the sailor and “heretic” Marcion was from this city.  A few of the inscriptions stood out to me and I thought I’d share them with you.

The first is a very successful boxer of the first or second century who may well match or beat Sugar Ray:

M(arcus) Iutius Marcianus Rufus, outstanding boxer of Sinope, who won victories in the sacred triumphal competitions: at Rome in the Capitoline, 3 times in succession — at Neapolis, twice — at the Actian (games), twice, the first and only Sinopean (to do so) – at the Nemean (games), twice – at the Isthmian (games), twice – at the Pythian (games) – at the Olympic (games) – at the Panathenaic (games), the first and only Sinopean (to do so) – at Antiocheia (in Syria), 3 times, the first and only ever of the youth and men’s classes in one day, in the men’s class – in the Pythian games at Antiocheia – at Nicomedia, 3 times, the first and only ever in the under-age, youth and men’s classes – at the (Provincial) Community of Asia games at Smyrna, Pergamum, and Ephesus – at the Aspis at Argos, twice – at the (Provincial) Community of Asia games at Sardis, twice, at Philadelphia, twice, at Traelles, twice, at Hierapolis, twice, at Laodiceia, twice, at Thyateira, twice, at Mytilene, twice – at the (Provincial) Community of Pontus games, twice – at the (Provincial) Community of Galatia games, twice – at the (Provincial) Community of Macedonia games – at the (Provincial) Community of Bithynia games at Nicaea, twice – at the (Provincial) Community of Cappadocia games – and at other competitions in the half-talent class, 110 times.  (In all) 150 victories.  By decision of the Senate (ISinope 105; trans. by French with adaptations, see below).

“Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee,” I guess.

The second is the grave of a Cynic philosopher of the second or third century.  This is the first grave of such a philosopher I have encountered, but there may well be others:

This then is (the) stone of a man whom, moreover, — an expounder of wisdom — this city has produced,  [ – – ] of [ – – ] Perseus.  Why does he have the name “wing”?  Tell us! Because a raised wing too drew (him) through the air of Greece.  This Perseus (was) [inclined] too towards Cynic thought, since he carried a wallet (and) a scimitar (small sword) in the place of a staff . . .  (ISinope 171; trans. French, with adaptations).

The third involves the grave-stone of a shipper from Sinope (first-third century CE), the hometown of another more renowned shipper, named Marcion:

Hail, O passer-by!  (I), Callinicus, having sailed (over) many waves, sailed (on) the last voyage of Lethe, (I) whom the sea in the deeps did not extinguish, but the earth destroyed by a heavy sickness; having lived two and thirty years, eager to come to (the) fate of (my) younger brother Calligonus, long dead, having lived nobly for fourteen years; thus are the plans of (the) fates arranged.  Iulius Callinicus, ship-master (naukleros), lies here (ISinope 169).

This inscription also points to another reality of life in the ancient world, namely, the short life expectancy:  Callinicus lived to the age of only 32 and his brother had died when he was only 14.

I plan to do more posts on interesting inscriptions I encounter.

David H. French, ed.,  The Inscriptions of Sinope (Inschriften griechischer Städte aus Kleinasien, vol 64; Bonn: Rudolf Habelt, 2004).

Podcast 3.7: Jewish Followers of Jesus, part 1 – Ebionites

Beginning with James the brother of Jesus and the Jerusalem church, here I trace evidence for Judean followers of Jesus and discuss their gradual marginalization. In particular, I focus attention on Jewish-Christian groups that the patristic sources (e.g. Irenaeus, Epiphanius) label “the Ebionites”, or “poor ones”. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.7: Jewish Followers of Jesus, part 1 – Ebionites (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Some ancient education-related jokes (Jokes 4)

When MSNBC links to your blog, the smartest thing to do is find out why, and then post more on the same.

Quite some time ago I started a series on ancient humour and it’s time to revive it again.  See:

The Philolegos, or Laughter-Lover is a treasure trove of ancient humour.  As I wait anxiously for the strike to end at York University, here are some ancient education-related jokes:

“An egghead elementary school teacher suddenly darted a glance at the corner and shouted, ‘Dionysius is misbehaving in the corner!’  When one of the other boys pointed out that Dionysius had not yet arrived, he rejoined, ‘Well, he will be when he gets here’ (Laughter-lover, no. 61)

“An egghead was writing a letter from Athens to his father.  Wanting to show off over how well his studies were going, he added this postscript:  ‘I pray that when I come home I shall find you on trial for your life, so that I can show you how great an advocate I am'” (no. 54).

“A professor from [the city of] Sidon (see post here) asked a schoolteacher how much a five-litre flask holds.  ‘That all depends on whether you mean oil or wine” (no. 136).

“A gluttonous teacher called up to a loaf of bread he saw on a high shelf, ‘Come down and recite your lesson or I’ll come up there and teach you another one’ (no. 220).

“An egghead gym instructor was told first that his pupil was not feeling well, next that he had a fever, and finally that he was dead.  ‘If you keep giving him all these excuses to miss class, he’ll never have a chance to learn’ (no. 258).

Now even I would accept that last excuse for missing classes.

Podcast 3.6: Sources for the Study of Diversity – Gnostic, Apocryphal, Patristic

Here I sketch out our main sources for the study of various Christian groups or “heresies” in the second and third centuries, including discussion of the early Christian Apocrypha, the Nag Hammadi writings (associated with “gnosticism”), and the Church Fathers. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.6: Sources for the Study of Diversity – Gnostic, Apocryphal, Patristic (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 3.5: Diversity in Asia Minor – A Regional Case Study

Here I use the region of Asia Minor (Turkey) as a case study that allows me to outline various strands and styles within Christianity in the first and second centuries. I then go on to outline our approach to studying the worldviews and practices of Christian groups and “heresies”. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.5: Diversity in Asia Minor – A Regional Case Study (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options ).

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Beate Dignas, Economy of the Sacred in Hellenistic and Roman Asia Minor (2002)

I had been planning to read Beate Dignas’ book on the economics of sanctuaries in Asia Minor for some time, and I have finally done so: Beate Dignas, Economy of the Sacred in Hellenistic and Roman Asia Minor (Oxford Classical Monographs; Oxford: OUP, 2002).   Here I’ll merely provide some highlights from my reading; this will not be a formal review.

Dignas argues that many studies of sanctuaries of Asia Minor in both the Hellenistic and Roman periods have been working with problematic assumptions.  The main assumption that Dignas challenges throughout the work is that concepts such as “polis religion” (in other words “city-state run religion”) or “state cults” or “public cults” are the most appropriate concepts when describing cults in Asia Minor.  In other words, she suggests that the common identification of cult with city (polis) and the notion that the sanctuaries were utterly dependent on civic government is not correct.  Dignas also feels that past attempts to categorize sanctuaries and to deal with the different categories in isolation do not find a basis in the ancient evidence.  In particular, she challenges a stark differentiation between urban and rural cults, or between Greek and so-called indigenous sanctuaries, or between regular sanctuaries and “temple-states”.  Here Dignas would stress similarities more than differences among these previously common categories.

Instead, Dignas emphasizes inscriptional evidence which points to the independence of certain cults from the cities with which they have been associated.  She also highlights cases when those in charge of a sanctuary (priests or what have you) sought to assert the interests of the sanctuary over against the city’s interests, usually by means of diplomatic relations with Hellenistic, Attalid, or Roman rulers.  The relationship between the cult of Zeus at Labraunda and the polis of Mylasa serves as the ongoing illustration of this point, alongside other examples.  The advantage of this particular case is that we possess epigraphic evidence from various points in the Hellenistic and Roman eras.  Dignas’ focus is on the economic management of the sanctuaries, with issues of administration, land, and income.

Dignas proposes a triangular understanding of the relation between city, cult, and ruler, with cases of rulers siding with cults being an important factor in her argument.  Hellenistic or Roman rulers and governors served a mediating role in these conflicts of interest, sometimes siding with a sanctuary’s leadership against the polis’ stance, and sometimes with the polis.  This approach rightly emphasizes the request-response and ad hoc nature of both Hellenistic and Roman rule.  She suggests that the motivations of these rulers in supporting the requests of specific cults may well have been related to concerns to honour the gods and ensure the ongoing welfare of the sanctuaries (rather than mere political interests).

Built into Dignas’ approach is an emphasis on continuity in the administration of sanctuaries from the Hellenistic to the Roman periods, with little change in the overall dynamics of this triangular relationship.  She also suggests the ongoing economic stability of many sanctuaries over this period.  In doing so, she is correctly arguing against a far more common scholarly tradition which emphasizes the decline of traditional cults in the late Hellenistic and, especially, in the Roman periods.  She is definitely on the right track in deconstructing that older, previously dominant view.  For my own views on such theories of decline, you can check out my article: The Declining Polis? Religious Rivalries in Ancient Civic Context.

Although I feel that Dignas has a legitimate point to make regarding evidence for the independence of some sanctuaries at certain times, she sometimes tends to substitute repeated assertions regarding independence for actual evidence.  At times the rhetoric of these assertions or claims is problematic as well.   On one occasion, her confidence in her own claims approaches prophetic status:  “future studies will confirm” what I [Dignas] am saying (p. 242).  In cases when the evidence is minimal or difficult to interpret, she nonetheless proceeds full steam ahead with assuming or asserting a high level of independence.   Although I think she is right about some level of continuity in sanctuary life from the Hellenistic to the Roman period, the strength with which she asserts this continuity is not necessarily consonant with the fragmentary nature of the evidence she presents.  Strong claims of either continuity (Dignas’ point) or discontinuity (far more common in previous studies) are based on very partial evidence, and it is important to be very clear about that situation.  More nuanced statements are called for.  Still, she is right to suggest that the evidence does point to the ongoing vitality of many cults in Asia Minor.

Another conceptual difficulty with somewhat far-reaching implications is Dignas’ repeated contrast between “secular” and “profane” with the modern notion of the separation of “church” and “state” as a loose analogy (e.g. p. 13).  This is based, in part, on Dignas’ attempt to assert the independence of sanctuaries (the sacred) from the polis or civic control (profane).  Dignas is here working against a now common claim that what we as moderns label “religion” was in fact embedded within various other dimensions of life in antiquity.  So that what we as moderns might label a “political” factor or an “economic” factor was, in the Greco-Roman world, bound up in what we would tend to call a “religious” sphere, and vice versa.  In other words, some scholars (including myself) would emphasize the relative inadequacy of these categories for studying cultural life in antiquity.  On the other hand, Dignas can conclude with the claim that “a religious sphere can be distinguished within any context of life in ancient Anatolia” (p. 223).  I find Dignas’ attempt to go back to a clear differentiation between religion and politics or the sacred and the profane quite odd.  In reading her theoretical comments on such matters it becomes clear that Dignas is not exactly up to date on the academic study of religion generally.  Nor does she actually engage such theoretical issues in a direct way.  This is problematic when dealing with the subject of sanctuaries in the Greco-Roman world.  And yet it’s important to recognize that this book began as a dissertation in a Classical Studies department, not a Religious Studies department.  And, in an overall way, Dignas’ assertions that an independent “religious sphere” existed is based less on any theoretical consideration of the issue than it is based on her attempt to argue for the independence of many sanctuaries from the cities (which to me does not require a claim that religion was separate from other aspects of life).

Despite these theoretical problems, I nonetheless found Dignas’ work very useful, particularly since we generally lack monographs on the topic of cults in Asia Minor.

Resurrecting EarlyChristianWritings.com and EarlyJewishWritings.com

A reader of this blog (whose comment I by accident deleted rather than approved) recently reminded me that we can still access both earlychristianwritings.com and earlyjewishwritings.com using the Way Back Machine on Archive.org.  There are various snapshots of the sites to choose from, with the most successful and complete ones for me being:

http://web.archive.org:80/web/20060131092132/http://www.earlychristianwritings.com

http://web.archive.org/web/20070611063719/http://www.earlyjewishwritings.com/

This will certainly help since I included some readings from these sites in my course outline for the upcoming Winter term (assuming that the York U. strike gets solved before January!).

Podcast 3.4: Docetic and Judaizing Opponents of Ignatius, part 2

Here I discuss Ignatius’ Judaizing opponents, who advocated certain Jewish beliefs and practices. I also deal with Ignatius’ strategies in combating groups he considered heretical. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.4: Docetic and Judaizing Opponents of Ignatius, part 2 (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Angel-loving association cancelled – A new reading of an often cited inscription from Asia Minor

The availability of the journal Epigraphica Anatolica online is already paying off!  There you will find a new article which has some notable repercussions not only for the study of associations in Asia Minor but also for the study of the opponents of Colossians: Hasan Malay, “ΦΙΛΑΝΠΙΛΟΙ in Phrygia and Lydia,” Epigraphica Anatolica 38 (2005) 42–44.

Back in 1980/81, A.R.R. Sheppard published a little inscription (from near Kotiaion) involving Holiness and Justice, two personifications that were commonly honoured in certain areas of Phrygia and Lydia (“Pagan Cults of Angels in Roman Asia Minor,” Talanta 12-13 [1980-81]: 77-101 = SEG 31 1130).  The more exciting element in the inscription was the apparent reference to non-Christians or non-Judeans who devoted themselves in some way to “angels”, which was based on Sheppard’s reading: ΦΙΛΑΝΓΕΛΩΝ (“Friends-of-angels”).  Sheppard’s translation of the inscription was as follows:

Aur(elius) … the Association of Friends of the Angels (made) a vow to Holiness and Justice”.

Sheppard suggested that this involved “pagans” who had some contact with the Jewish notion of angels.  Sheppard’s reading of the inscription was also discussed in New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity, vol. 6, number 31.

This idea that there were “pagans” devoted to divine messengers or “angels” then became background for some New Testament scholars who were sorting out the “philosophy” combated by the author of Colossians (2:8-23), particularly the reference to the “worship of angels” (2:18).  Clinton Arnold’s theory regarding the opponents of Colossians, for instance, drew attention to the importance of angels in Asia Minor not only among diaspora Judeans but also among pagans, such that we could speak of a common folk practice in this region.  He suggested that the opponents were practicing the (magical) invocation of angels for protection and that this reflected both the Judean and pagan devotion to angels in Asia Minor specifically (see Clinton Arnold, The Colossian Syncretism: The Interface between Christianity and Folk Belief at Colossae [Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996]).

However, Malay’s recent study of this particular inscription has shown that Sheppard likely misread a key letter here (what a difference one letter can make).  What Sheppard read as a “gamma”, Malay now says is surely a “pi”, which leaves us with ΦΙΛΑΝΠΙΛΟΙ, “Friends-of-the-vine” or “Vine-lovers”, and no angels at all in this inscription.

Malay publishes another inscription which confirms the existence of associations devoted to the vine, in other words relating to wine production and/or consumption, in the same region (in this case from nearby Katakekaumene, now in the Manisa Museum, dating 161/2 CE):

“To the Good Fortune! In the year 192, on the fourth day of the month Peritios, New Lovers of Vine (φιλάνπιλοι) set this up as a vow to Mother Leto on account of their own salvation.

The meeting of the association of friend-of-angels is apparently canceled.

Consulting the gods about your favourite blanket

Oracles were an important part of life in Greek cities of the Hellenistic and Roman periods.  Individuals, groups or communities went to locales such as Delphi, Didyma, and Claros to consult a god — in these cases the god Apollo — and to ask for guidance on various dilemnas or problems faced in their lives.  The questions asked could range from what we would consider quite important political decisions (should be go to war with this or that power?) or important health concerns (how can we conceive?) to what we would consider more mundane matters.  In reading Pierre Bonnechere’s chapter on “Divination” (A Companion to Greek Religion, p. 157) today I came across this inscriptional gem in which a man consults Zeus and Zeus’ wife, Dione, about some missing bedding:

“Agis asks Zeus Naios and Dione about his blankets and pillows, whether he has lost them or whether someone else has stolen them” (SIG, 3rd edition 1163).

Haunted house for sale in Athens — belated Halloween post

Usually I like to post some scary stuff from antiquity in connection with Halloween (see earlier ones about talking, decapitated heads and such here and here), but I’m a bit behind.  Here is a somewhat entertaining tale of a haunted house preserved by Pliny the Younger (Roman governor of Bithynia-Pontus in the early second century).  This ghost sounds a bit like a double for Jacob Marley.  Pliny seems to believe  the tale:

There was at Athens a large and roomy house, which had a bad name, so that no one could live there. In the dead of the night a noise, resembling the clashing of iron, was frequently heard, which, if you listened more attentively, sounded like the rattling of chains, distant at first, but approaching nearer by degrees. Immediately afterward a phantom appeared in the form of an old man, of extremely emaciated and filthy appearance, with a long beard and messy hair, rattling the chains on his feet and hands. The distressed occupants meanwhile passed their wakeful nights under the most dreadful terrors imaginable. This, as it broke their rest, ruined their health, and brought on distempers, their terror grew upon them, and death ensued. Even in the day time, though the spirit did not appear, the impression nonetheless remained so strong upon their imaginations that it still seemed before their eyes, and kept them in perpetual alarm. Consequently the house was at length deserted, as being deemed absolutely uninhabitable, so that it was now entirely abandoned to the ghost. However, in hopes that some tenant might be found who was ignorant of this very alarming circumstance, a sign was put up, giving notice that it was either for rent or sale.

(Pliny the Younger, Letters 7.27.5-6; adapted from the translation by William Melmoth, Letters of Pliny [Boston: Greenough and Stebbens, 1809], online at Project Gutenberg).

Moral of the story: Always ask if a place is haunted before you buy or rent.

(I came across the tale while reading D. Felton, “The Dead,” in A Companion to Greek Religion [edited by D. Ogden; London: Blackwell, 2007], 86-99.)

Podcast 3.3: Docetic and Judaizing Opponents of Ignatius, part 1

There are two main groups of opponents combated by Ignatius of Antioch in his letters to followers of Jesus in Asia Minor: Docetic and Judaizing opponents (part 1 of 2). This episode introduces Ignatius (who wrote in the early second century) and explains the position of his docetic opponents, who thought that Jesus only appeared to be human when in fact he was a divine being. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.3: Docetic and ‘Judaizing’ Opponents of Ignatius, part 1 (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Podcast 3.2: A Schism in John’s Community, part 2

Here I continue to consider the opponents in John’s epistles (part 2 of 2). These epistles provide evidence of an early Christian schism over how to view Jesus’ humanity. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.2: A Schism in John’s Community, part 2 (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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Ballparking the historical Jesus – The importance of context

In my previous posts on the historical Jesus, I have stressed the difficulties modern historians face in reconstructing this first century peasant or in being precise about what exactly the peasant of Galilee did or said.  The limits of historical method and the scholarly choices that are involved every step of the way help to explain why solid scholars such as E.P. Sanders and John Dominic Crossan come up with quite different results in their attempts to say something about the historical Jesus.  (I hope to return to these guys in another post).

When it comes down to it, one could say that what we know with a relatively high level of probability using historical approaches are two specific things: that there is a very high likelihood that Jesus was executed by crucifixion under Pilate and that Jesus was probably baptized by John the immerser.  There are, of course, important corollaries to these two items that allow us to go further.  Yet, beyond such historically secure statements, it is difficult to be precise about sayings and actions of Jesus from an historical perspective.  Some things may be more securely probable or likely than others, but we are dealing with less secure items the rest of the way in the search for the historical Jesus. What one scholar considers to be a more likely case of an authentic saying or action of Jesus, another will consider probably a product of an early Christian author, and therefore inauthentic.  Modern historical methods are limited in what they can tell us about a specific person living two thousand years ago, and our ancient sources have interests other than historical reporting.

As the title to my post puts it, we are in some sense better off admitting that we can only (carefully) ballpark it when it comes to evaluating many aspects of the historical Jesus.   What I mean by “ballparking it” here is that we can gain a relatively good picture of some aspects of the social, economic, and cultural contexts in which the peasant Jesus was active, and we can know with some degree of likelihood about some of Jesus’ contemporaries in the context of Galilee and Judea.  We can construct a likely picture of the overall ballpark or range of possibilities within which to place the figure of Jesus — a first century Galilean ballpark set within the Roman empire.


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(The Galilean ballpark)

A typical student in a second year course or your average Jane-blog-reader may know very little about ancient history.  They may know even less about the Mediterranean world as a whole in that ancient period.  They may know even less about what was going on in Israel in the first century, and still less about what it was like in the region of Galilee or in some village like Nazareth.  Then there’s the question of whether one’s limited knowledge is focussed on what we moderns distinguish as geography, politics, economics, society, or culture.  The thing to teach here, I would suggest, is the ballpark (itself hard to recreate using historical methods) in which to plot out the various possibilities for a peasant like Jesus.  If we spend considerable time studying the world in which Jesus lived, through both literary and archeological evidence, and focus our attention on studying other near-contemporaries of Jesus who produced writings or who left behind artefacts, then we can get quite a bit closer to the ballpark in which Jesus played.

Podcast 3.1: Introduction to Diversity – A Schism in John’s Community, part 1

Here I delve into the issue of diversity in early Christianity by using the opponents in John’s epistles as a starting point (part 1 of 2). These epistles provide evidence of an early Christian schism over how to view Jesus’ humanity. This is part of series 3 (“Diversity in Early Christianity: ‘Heresies’ and Struggles”) of the Religions of the Ancient Mediterranean podcast.

Podcast 3.1: Introduction to Diversity – A Schism in John’s Community, part 1 (mp3; archive.org page with various downloading options here).

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