Bruce Lincoln, University of Chicago Divinity School
Clifford Ando, University of Chicago
Considerations of religion are generally understood to impinge on Roman practice in war in two arenas: through the operation of the fetial priests, who oversaw declarations of war and the striking of treaties, as well as the treatment of ambassadors, and through scruples against sacrilege, largely limited to the infliction of damage upon sacred properties. To these constraints upon action is joined a third, namely, the so-called laws of war, a conceptual place-holder often invoked but whose contents were never systematically enumerated, at least not in classical antiquity. It is my aim to review the religious and legal postulates underlying these separate systems, and to relate their histories both to one another as well as to recent developments in Roman legal history. I will concentrate first on the codification of priestly practice as a body of law, and the influence of civil law procedure upon it; and second, upon the reshaping of this material in response to separate trends toward ecumenism in Roman religion and Roman law under the empire. Without such an historical understanding, I will argue, it is difficult within modern accounts of Roman religion to account for particular expressions of Roman scruple regarding religious sanctuaries in times of war.
Beth Berkowitz, The Jewish Theological Seminary
This paper will explore the role that Bible-reading plays in generating and developing discourses of violence in classical rabbinic culture. Playing off of James Scott’s Domination and the Arts of Resistance, the paper will examine the way rabbinic discourses of violence, read out of Scripture, function as discourses of minority identity. One second-century rabbinic text, Tosefta Sanhedrin 9:11, reads Leviticus 18:3’s prohibition on Israelite assimilation as a directive about Jewish methods of capital punishment. The Babylonian Talmud develops the conversation further, invoking Leviticus 19:18’s command to love one’s neighbor in order to determine the proper way to decapitate a criminal. A midrash from the early rabbinic collection Sifra interprets Leviticus 18:3’s injunction about Israelite distinctiveness in light of the violent displays of the Roman arena.
In this paper, I will analyze these texts and related others to explore 1. why it might not be coincidental that ethnic identity is problematized in the course of a conversation about criminal execution, 2. what kinds of violence—physical, metaphorical, individual, communal, ritualized, spontaneous—are entailed in the construction of minority identity, and 3. the central role that Bible-reading plays in these various discourses of violence and identity.
How and why are ambiguities and peculiarities in sacred scripture made an opportunity for the Rabbis to create discourses of violence and, through those discourses, to argue for their distinctive brand of Jewish identity? What kinds of violence are entailed in hermeneutics itself?
Ra‘anan S. Boustan, University of California at Los Angeles
This paper explores a variety of late antique Jewish sources that present graphic and even lurid descriptions of the physical torture, punishment, or outright physical destruction inflicted on Roman emperors or other powerful foreign rulers. Perhaps most notable are the gruesome scenes of post-mortem or eschatological immolation of the Emperor Hadrian (in classical rabbinic literature) and of the legendary Emperor Lupinus (in the early Jewish mystical literature). Far from denying the long-standing Christian representations of Jews as by nature vengeful and murderous, these passages embrace this characterization. Indeed, from the stand-point of the post-Constantinian period, these Jewish revenge fantasies flirt dangerously with the recurrent trope in late antique Christian historiography that the Jewish communities of the empire play a central role in the violent upheavals that periodically disrupt the social order. Thus, for example, the ninth-century chronicle of Theophanes reports that, during an uprising in Antioch in 608/9 ce, a Jewish mob mutilated the Chalcedonian Patriarch of city Anastasios II and dragged him through the streets.
I will argue that the Jewish appropriation of Christian representations of Jewish anti-Roman and anti-Christian violence should be understood as a form of cultural “mimicry,” which post-colonial critics have identified as a hallmark of colonial contexts. Ironically, however, these ambivalent gestures of imagined violence served not only as comments on the immediate historical dynamics of imperial power and violence. Ultimately, they also yoked Jewish fortunes within the Jewish imagination in counter-cyclical fashion to the historical rise and fall of the Roman-Christian Other.
David Cook, Rice University
Although the Shi`ite sect of the Ismailis (the Sevener Shi`ites) has been frequently examined—if only to debunk the numerous myths concocted by credulous western travelers (such as Marco Polo) concerning it, as well as to deconstruct the hostility manifested by both Sunnis and Twelver Shi`ites against it—the issue of the narratives of the assassinations carried out by the group have never received specific attention. Recently, due to the appearance of suicide attacks among contemporary Muslims, certain scholars have advanced the idea that the Ismaili Assassins were proto-suicide attackers.
This claim needs to be verified: is it just one in the long list of demonizations of this group by outsiders or can it actually be sustained? How did the Assassins carry out their attacks and did they ever survive them or carry them out in such a manner as to preclude survival after they had accomplished their missions?
No Ismaili sources themselves concerning the assassinations have survived, so the researcher must rely solely upon the testimony of the (mainly) Sunni sources. But even with these hostile sources, one can glean patterns behind the attacks against so many of the prominent figures of the Muslim world (as well as the Crusaders and Mongols) during the eleventh- through thirteenth centuries. This research will examine the narratives and, allowing for the bias of the sources, try to answer the question of whether the Ismaili Assassins were really the ancestors of today’s suicide attackers.
Natalie Dohrmann, University of Pennsylvania
Theorists of jurisprudence, language, and religion from Girard to Foucault, Derrida and Cover, all recognize the violence inherent in legal literatures, and their interpretation. The judge's (interpreted) ruling is systemically coercive, even unto death. It is argued by some that the teleology of violence in law makes it a textual realm that is ontologically different from others. Consequently, according to these theorists, legal interpretation is categorically different from other modes of interpretation—resisting then a post-structuralist inclination to include all acts of exegesis under the broader conceptual umbrella of the text. How in this context are we to understand the radical privileging of law in rabbinic cultural production? Is rabbinic law—a largely scholarly pursuit without sanction—to be included in this coercive realm? To what degree? How should one read rabbinic law?
My paper will bring the question of coercion to the rabbinic cultural privileging of legal texts and legal thinking (a sanctified violence if there ever was one), but set in the distinctive context of the Roman East. Rather than assuming the law to be an inherently Jewish genre and mode of religious thought, I will approach rabbinic literature with questions of legal power seen synchronically—in the dual context of Roman legal hegemony and Roman imperial savvy (as mediated by the rabbis). I am hoping to see rabbinic literature as a break from Jewish precedent in its legality. I hope to redraw the lines of inheritance and influence in the discussion of rabbinic legalism, using genre and coercion as contextual rubrics.
Chris Frilingos, Michigan State University
A recent New Yorker profile of Joel Surnow, co-creator of the series “24”, highlighted the mimetic effects of depicting torture. For some members of the U.S. military in Iraq watching the television show is not only an escape but also a teaching moment. A former Army interrogator reports that some soldiers have applied specific torture techniques portrayed on “24” in their own investigations of Iraqi prisoners. Fictional brutality can also encourage a different kind of learning—not mimesis but mimicry, not identification but irony. I will explore this alternative possibility in ancient narrative, focusing specifically on the Greek version of Esther, Leukippe and Kleitophon, and the Infancy Gospel of Thomas. These writings express a darkly comic point of view: torment and death serve as dramatic devices, as the well-known tale of Haman’s fall attests. Dead witnesses are brought to life to offer testimony in some stories; others delight in episodes of Scheintod (“false death”). I will argue that such moments provide a sardonic commentary on the enactment of coercive power. Recent scholarship has shown how early Jewish and Christian martyr accounts appropriated and redirected mainstream discourses. So, too, does the ironic brutality of Jewish, Christian, and pagan stories cast doubt on the logic that sustained imperial practices of violence.
Andy Gallia, University of Minnesota
Throughout their history, the Romans were fascinated by the theme of ennobling death. In its early forms (e.g., the devotio ritual), this topos provided a model for valorous self-sacrifice on the battlefield. Then, as opportunities for military heroics declined under the Principate, aristocrats started to gain fame by confronting the power of the emperor and paying with their lives. A literary subgenre centered on the deaths of notable men (exitus illustrium virorum) attests to the continuing popularity of this idea. There was a twist, however: instead of perpetuating the normative values of Roman society, this literature reflected an ongoing conflict over the definition of those values. By praising the final moments of persons who officially had been condemned, these texts challenged the authority of the emperors who pass judgment on and condemn certain members of the elite.
This challenge to the emperors’ legal authority coincides with the emergence of personal sanctitas (holiness) as an elite Roman virtue—a shift in values that I think represents a parallel reaction to the emperors’ consolidation of religious authority. Moreover, these developments appear to have been closely intertwined. Going back at least to Socrates, the idea that victims of unjust persecution enjoyed a special relationship to the divine has a long history in the intellectual traditions of the Greco-Roman world. The traces of the exitus literature that can be found in the works of Tacitus and the Younger Pliny suggest that there was a significant religious dimension to these laudatory portraits of the ends of famous men. Following a framework similar to what we can see in later depictions of the phenomenon of religious martyrdom, these texts appear to have represented courageous death in the face of oppression as a mark of the victim’s sanctity.
Jennifer Glancy, LeMoyne College
Violence, whether directed against person or place, has a spatial dimension. The Gospel of John draws our attention to the parallelism between corporeal space and architectural space. Destroy this temple, Jesus says, and in three days I will raise it up. His interlocutors understand him to refer to the space of the great Jerusalem temple, but Jesus refers to the space of his own body (2:13–22). Jesus’ history of violence begins in Jerusalem, according to the Fourth Gospel, when he picks up a whip to clear the Temple, and ends in Jerusalem with his crucifixion. Jerusalem’s history of violence is particularly complex for early Christians. Many early Christians continued to participate in cultic sacrifice there, for example, and read from prophetic scrolls that recalled the city’s past traumas. The Gospel of Mark, which I date to around the time of the Jewish War, and the Gospel of John, which I date to the end of the first century, were produced while the stench and horror of the flames that scarred Jerusalem still smoldered throughout the Roman Empire. Drawing on the Gospels of Mark and John, I argue that in early Christian memory Jesus and Jerusalem are twin sites of violence. In making this argument, I seek ways to narrate spatial histories of violence without implying that such violence is inevitable or destined to be perpetuated, a project with implications for how we speak about Jerusalem in the twenty-first century.
Alex Jassen, University of Minnesota
The Qumran community believed that it was living on the edge of the final ends of days. A central feature of its eschatology was the belief that the final end of days would witness the final destruction of evil people in the world—understood by the community to consist of non-Jews such as the Romans and Jews who did not subscribe to the community’s worldview. These segments of society would be obliterated in a war waged by the community with the aid of God as divine warrior and the angels as military leaders. Discussion of violence in the Dead Sea Scrolls has generally located this eschatological portrait within the framework of the community’s apocalyptic orientation. The division of humanity into good and evil and the expectation that the end of days would bring about the justified destruction of the wicked and exaltation of the righteous are commonplace themes in apocalyptic. While these general themes structured the community’s portrait of the end of days, most of the specific details were drawn from the community’s exegetical engagement with Scripture and the reapplication of ancient prophetic words to expected eschatological circumstances. This paper examines how the community turned to Scripture and its interpretation to construct its portrait of its enemies and vilify them as worthy of destruction in the end of days. I will focus on selected passages in sectarian exegetical literature that treat the Romans, other Jews, and demonic forces in an attempt to illustrate the hermeneutics of the community’s scripturally based portrait of violence.
Hermann Lichtenberger, Everhard-Karls-Universität Tübingen
The Apostles in the Apocryphal Acts of the 2nd and 3rd centuries suffer violence for the sake of their confession to Christ the Lord, but also – in a more overt way – because of their demand of chastity. This demand of chastity in regard to women often leads to violence towards the women and the preacher, but also implies anti-violence from their side. The martyr’s suffering and death through violence may yield violence by words or deeds against the judges and executioners. The reader of these stories is urged to suffer with the co-believers and to oppose their tormenters. The suffering and death of the Apostles in the Acts of the second and third centuries will be analyzed in the context of Early Jewish and Early Christian martyrdom.
Shelly Matthews, Furman University
The dying forgiveness prayers uttered by Jesus in the Gospel of Luke, Stephen in the book of Acts, and James the brother of Jesus in Hegessipus’ Hypomnemata are an exegetical conundrum. Why do the authors of these stories include depictions of protagonists praying forgiveness upon the Jews within narratives which underscore their condemnation? This paper proposes a solution through examination of the Roman discourse on clemency. Clemency is a peculiarly Roman virtue closely associated with imperial conquest. The virtue is frequently invoked, as Melissa Dowling notes, to mark the transition from war to peace—from the time of conquest to the time when the “happy captives” are incorporated into the empire. Images of submissive barbarians receiving clemency signal power and triumph so complete that the vanquished may be spared. Reading the forgiveness prayers for Jews, along with other early Christian rhetorics of mercy, through the lens of Roman clemency exposes the violence of this rhetoric. In writings such as Luke-Acts and Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho, the language of extreme Christian mercy functions as an assertion of Christian supersession on the one hand, and of Jewish submission and depravity on the other.
While early Christian discourse on enemy love, non-retaliation, and forgiveness of tormentors is often understood both as Christian proprium and as a sign of the superiority of Christian ethics, this paper demonstrates how this discourse serves to mask early Christian violence.
Margaret M. Mitchell, University of Chicago
This paper seeks to test a venerable scholarly and popular
commonplace: that the ideology of religious martyrdom is based upon
and further reflects a literal or even hyper-literal interpretation
of scriptures. Through two test-cases from late antique Christian
writings, Tertullian's scorpiace and Origen's exhortatio ad
martyrium, I seek to demonstrate the inadequacy of the literal/allegorical dichotomy to comprise and comprehend the complex,
ingenious ways in which "the dialect of the holy
scriptures" (Origen's phrase) is claimed to speak in one unambiguous
voice that instructs the Christian to accept martyrdom under persecution through confession. Self and other characterizations using the labels of "literal" and "allegorical" readings abound in these writings, but are not confined to one side or another. Via such "fighting words," the lexicon of hermeneutical claims to fidelity and apostasy to the scriptures is pressed into service by authors who, like Tertullian in North Africa and Origen in Alexandria or Palestine, craft careful apologetic and protreptic arguments to support the claim that for Christians "it is better to prefer a religious death to an irreligious life."
Cal Roetzel, University of Minnesota
Although Paul advocated non-retaliation and love (Rom 12:14–21) and although he urged his converts to “repay no one evil for evil” (1 Thess 5:15) and to “do good to all” (Gal 6:10), this essay will examine the shadow-side of Paul’s language of violence and vituperation and his demonization and stigmatization of his opponents as “other.” We will ask whether Paul’s model of discourse was “emancipatory” or “disciplinary” (Dawes), i.e. was it informed by the religious vision that liberated one from a rule of force or was it constructed on the post-structural belief that force was necessary to control violence or dissent? Did Paul’s discourse of war authorize sanctified violence to achieve its end or did it reveal his recognition of the fundamental contradiction of any attempt to “enslave” at sword’s point for the sake of Christ? Did Paul realize that under the sword a captive became a thing with free agency denied, and thus this attempt to suppress a futile exercise? Or did his obvious discomfort with the martial rhetoric (2 Cor 10:8; 7:8–9) spring from a realization that threats of mortal harm or enslavement were screens of domination? Or, finally, in light of this martial rhetoric, how is one to understand his argument for “strength in weakness” as an authenticating sign of apostolic authenticity? Does it represent a singular moment of clarity about the limits of power, a subversion of the dominant cultural understanding, an example of the tension running throughout Paul’s thought, or even a flat contradiction? This paper will suggest that Paul’s contest with the “super apostles” may provide both the occasion for Paul’s abusive speech and for an epiphanic moment when he recognizes the limits of martial rhetoric and proposes an alternative.
Laura Nasrallah, Harvard Divinity School
Many early Christians lived and moved and had their being in metropolitan centers busy with architecture and images that made claims about Roman power, culture, and piety. In response to such a world, Justin’s Apologies inscribe as their audience the Roman emperors, the Senate, and the Roman people. Whether or not the Apologies reached this audience, their invocation is rhetorically significant. Justin interpellates the Roman emperors just as, he claims, the ritual system of Roman “justice” has called Christians into being and immediately condemned them based upon the name. The Apologies identify a crisis of representation that takes place on at least three levels: Christians are accused on the basis of the “name,” emperors take on epithets or names that do not match their deeds, and daimones engage in a deceitful mimesis of true religion.
This paper reads Justin’s Apologies in light of material remains from the Roman Empire. The Forum of Trajan in Rome, with its basilica of justice, its libraries, its temple to the deified Trajan, its many sculptures, and its Column of Trajan—which depicts the Dacian wars not in terms of Roman violence as much as restraint and piety—is juxtaposed with the Apologies. Justin’s rhetoric about mimesis and justice responds to the sort of discourse articulated by the Forum, with its concatenation of claims about paideia, religious practice, military might, justice, and the blurring between human and divine in imperial cult.
This paper also investigates Justin’s own work of mimesis, as the term is used in postcolonial criticism: his representation of himself as a colonial subject and his articulation of a Christian identity in an empire where culture, ethnicity, and philosophical knowledge are commodities.
Celia E. Schultz, Yale University
This paper examines Roman discomfort with ritual killing, arguing that Roman attitudes on the subject are somewhat more complicated than is often made out by modern scholars, who either focus on Roman revulsion to the practice of human sacrifice and explain away instances where the Romans engaged in it or treat the matter as if the Romans were completely comfortable with it. First, I draw a distinction between human sacrifice, the killing of an individual as an offering to a divine recipient, and ritual killing, that is, a religious ritual requiring a human death. Then I argue that there was a space in the Roman religious mentality for ritual murder, but human sacrifice was something the Romans always identified as “other,” a sign of foreignness and barbarity, especially among the Carthaginians, Gauls, and Iberian tribes. Sometimes the “other” was closer to home, however: the elder Pliny cites the Senate’s final outlawing of human sacrifice in 97 BCE as evidence that it was still practiced down to that late date, and implies this was the case among Italic peoples. And sometimes the “other” was in fact Roman, though dating to the distant past. To take one example, Vergil’s Aeneas offers human victims at Pallas’ funeral. Conversely, the Romans acknowledged that they occasionally engaged, albeit with some disgust, in ritual killing for other purposes. The somewhat regular ritual drowning at sea of hermaphrodites and live interment of unchaste Vestal Virgins served to remove polluting presences from the community. The live burials of pairs of Greeks and Gauls at several points in the Republic expiated other prodigia, most likely unchaste Vestals.
Brent D. Shaw, Princeton University
A consideration of three different cases, all of them involving the siege of a dissident Christian community by the armed forces of the state, is intended as an exercise in comparative history. The incidents that involved the late Roman state in the siege of the Donatist basilica of Timgad in the year 419-20, that involved the new Tsarist state of the Romanovs in the siege of the Paleostrovsk monastery in seventeenth-century Muscovy in the year 1687-88, and the modern-day siege of the Branch Davidian Mount Carmel site near Waco, Texas, in 1993, are investigated to delineate some of the common and diverging elements in the involvement of the institutions of state violence in religious conflicts. The general argument will concentrate on the reasons why state-level governments become implicated in violent acts of repression of this kind, the mechanics of the state’s involvement in sectarian conflicts, and the nature of the difference between premodern and modern states in their responses to demands that they undertake coercive action against specially targeted religious groups.
Tom Sizgorich, University of New Mexico
Beginning in the seventh century CE, Christian apologists repeatedly questioned the legitimacy of the prophet Muúammad and the religion that grew from his revelation because, these apologists repeatedly asserted, real prophets do not come armed with swords, and real communities of God do not use violence to promulgate their faith. Accordingly, these apologists insisted, the early Islamic community’s legacy of faith-driven warfare, conquest, and empire building negated the claims of that community to possession of revealed truth or participation in the Abrahamic tradition. This must have been rather puzzling from the point of view of the early Muslim umma, however; many members of that community seem to have understood the early Muslim conquests, whether in Arabia or in the former dominions of the Romans and Sāsānid Persians, to have been not only very like the holy wars waged by the Christian Roman emperors against various forms of polytheist unbelief, but indeed as separate fronts within the same struggle. That is, the institution of state-sponsored jihād was, for many Muslims, of a piece with the pious imperial struggles so long waged by Christian Romans against the unbelieving tribesmen of their frontiers, or against the Magian empire of the Persians. In my communication, I will examine the deep affinities early Muslims imagined between the militant monotheist empire of the Romans and the jihād state of the early caliphate. I will ask, moreover, what basis there was for imagining such affinities, and how it was that Rome eventually went from monotheist champion to the great unbelieving opponent of the Muslim umma.
Kimberly Stratton, Carleton University
Steve Weitzman, Indiana University
My goal in this paper is to revisit and revise Rene Girard’s concept of “mimetic rivalry” with the help of the religious conflict between ancient Jews and Samaritans as described by the first century historian Josephus. Josephus’ Samaritans seem to perfectly exemplify the Girardian “monstrous double”—in fact, Josephus is quite explicit in describing them as a double of the Jews (they build a temple like the one in Jerusalem; they parrot the Jews’ claim to descend from ancient Israel, etc.)—but the evidence allows for a much more precise cultural and literary analysis of their mimicry, or rather Josephus’ description of them as hostile mimics, than would be generated by Girardian analysis (or a post-colonial approach to mimicry for that matter). In the end, my paper will not shed much light on the actual religious rivalry between the Jews and the Samaritans, but I hope to illumine the rhetorical/discursive role of this rivalry in the source from which we derive most of our information about first century Judaism, and perhaps to complicate and sharpen the concept of mimicry itself as a cultural tactic.