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This article discusses the challenges facing scholars exploring the nature of belief in ancient Greek religion. While recent scholarship has raised questions about individual religious activities, and work on ritual, the body, and the senses has broadened our methodological palette, the nature and dynamics of generally held “low intensity” beliefs still tend to be described simply as “unquestioned” or “embedded” in society. But examining scholarship on divine personifications suggests that ancient beliefs were — and our perceptions of them are — more complex. This article first explores the example of Tyche (“Chance”), in order to highlight some of the problems that surround the use of the term “belief.” It then turns to the theories of “ideology” of Slavoj Žižek and Robert Pfaller and argues that these can offer provocative insights into the nature and dynamics of ritual and belief in ancient Greek culture.
Religious Prejudice and Bacchantic Worship in Greek Literature
Ancient Greek descriptions of ecstatic and mystic rituals, here broadly labeled as Bacchantic worship, regularly include elements of moral corruption and dissolution of social unity. Suspicions were mostly directed against unofficial cult groups that exploited Dionysiac experiences in secluded settings. As the introduction of copious new cults attests, Greek religion was receptive to external influences. This basic openness, however, was not synonymous with tolerance, and pious respect for all deities did not automatically include their worshippers. This article reconsiders the current view of ancient religious intolerance by regarding these negative stereotypes as expressions of prejudice and by investigating the social dynamics behind them. Prejudices against private Bacchantic groups are regarded as part of the process of buttressing the religious authority of certain elite quarters in situations where they perceive that their position is being threatened by rival claims. It is suggested that both the accentuation and alleviation of prejudice is best understood in relation to the relative stability of the elite and the religious control it exerted.
Anders Klostergaard Petersen
The first section describes the major progress in the study of Second Temple Judaism during the past fifty years, since A.S. van der Woude founded the Journal for the Study of Judaism. This part—the whence—comprises the main bulk of the argument. It also paves the way for the conclusion—the wither. There, I present some ideas potentially leading to new advances in the field. I call for an engagement with the social and natural sciences based on a gene-culture coevolutionary paradigm. In particular, adopting a biocultural evolutionary perspective makes it possible to situate the field and its empirical focus in a much larger context. Thereby, we shall be able to tackle some of the pivotal questions with which our scholarly predecessors wrestled. Finally, I discuss emotional studies that may help us to get a better grasp on a traditionally moot question in the texts we study.
John J. Collins
There has been an explosion of interest in Second Temple Judaism over the last fifty years. In the first half of the period under review, the Pseudepigrapha were at the cutting edge. This period culminated in the publication of the new enlarged edition of the Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, edited by James H. Charlesworth. Beginning in the 1980s, interest shifted to the Dead Sea Scrolls, culminating in the rapid publication of the corpus under the editorship of Emanuel Tov. At the same time, new discoveries shed light on the encounter of Judaism with Hellenism, both in Judea in the Maccabean period and in the Egyptian diaspora. Few scholars would now defend an idea of “normative Judaism” in this period, but that idea still casts a shadow on the ongoing debates.
Hindy Najman and Tobias Reinhardt
This article sets up a dialogue between two bodies of ancient texts, i.e. Jewish wisdom literature and Greco-Roman didactic of the Hellenistic period, with an awareness of the scholarly and interpretive communities that have studied, taught and transformed these bodies of texts from antiquity until the present. The article does not claim direct influence or cross-pollination across intellectual, religious or social communities in the Hellenistic period. Instead, the article suggests four discrete frameworks for thinking about comparative antiquity: creation, the law, the sage and literary form. The comparative model proposed here intends to create the conditions for noticing parallels and kindred concepts. However, the article resists the temptation to repeat earlier scholarly arguments for dependency or priority of influence. Instead, the essay demonstrates remarkable alignments, suggestively similar developments, and synergies. Perhaps, the ideal first reader for this article is none other than Philo of Alexandria.