St Gregory Palamas and the Tradition of the Fathers
From: Interpreting Late Antiquity. Essays on the Postclassical World. Eds: G.W.Bowersock, Peter Brown & Oleg Grabar. Harvard University Press
In November or December of the year 408, when Alaric was besieging Rome and its inhabitants were on the brink of cannibalism, certain Etruscan diviners found their way into the city and reported how, by their rituals, they had recently repelled the Goths from the town of Narnia. Pompeianus, the prefect of the city and probably himself a polytheist, sought Bishop Innocent I's leave for the Etruscans to conjure the gods on Rome's behalf. In the words of the historian Zosimus, also a follower of the old religion, Innocent agreed to "put the salvation of the city before his own belief, and authorized them to perform their rites in secret."(1) The Etruscans answered that the traditional rituals must be performed openly and at public expense.(2) The Senate must go as a body to the Capitol, and invoke the gods there and in the marketplaces, if their prayer was to be heard. But nobody dared turn the clock that far back, and the city fathers resorted once more to bargaining with Alaric.
Not all Christians shared Innocent's flexibility -or perhaps they had not found themselves in so tight a corner. In 391 Bishop Theophilus of Alexandria, supported by the imperial authorities, had attacked and destroyed the great temple of Sarapis in the Egyptian metropolis.(3) Sarapis was responsible for the annual flooding of the Nile; and when the flood was delayed, some polytheists angrily demanded they be allowed to sacrifice to their god. The governor appealed to the emperor; and Theodosius Ι refused, adding that he would sooner the river stopped flowing altogether. We also read that at this time Christians went around chipping off the relieves of Sarapis that adorned lintels and other parts of private houses throughout the city, and painting crosses in their place. On the one hand we have the worshipers of the old gods, who believed that on their cults depended Egypt's prosperity and indeed the world's, so that all stood to be penalized for the Christians' impiety. On the other hand we have the new Israelites whose dwellings, as in the days of Moses, the vengeful Lord would surely pass over, if only they marked their lintels and doorposts with the appropriate sign.
In both these sets of events we see articulated under duress an ancient sense of community which before Constantine's conversion had rarely needed to make itself explicit. We can sense its presence, though, in certain gravestones of ordinary foreigners buried at Rome that identify them simply by their village or town of origin(4) The polytheist envisaged his native place as a unique whole defined by geography, climate, history, and the local economy, as well as by the gods who particularly frequented it, ensured its prosperity, and might even assume its name. No part of this identity, a delicate interweaving of divine, natural, and human which was often itself worshiped as a Tyche or Fortuna, could be subtracted or neglected without impairing the harmony and viability of the whole. In times of danger one addressed the gods with a single voice, often according to formulas revealed by an oracle to a representative deputation of leading citizens. Travel abroad might, admittedly, acquaint the member of such a community with exotic gods; yet honour paid them was attended by no sense of abandoning one religious and therefore social system for another. The vocabulary might change, but not the grammar; and even those who sought to explain the distinctive characteristics of particular peoples in terms of the influence
of ethnarch -gods saw no religious incompatibility, since all mankind was subject to the king of the gods.(5)
Christians, by contrast, might add to their gravestones a statement of belief, such as a roughly carved cross, which attached them to a universal community of faith while separating them from compatriots who were not Christians.(6) Before the 3rd century this idea of a religious community, founded on self-consciously
distinctive beliefs about the divine world and what those beliefs implied for conduct of individual and communal life, would have made sense only to certain philosophers, to Jews and those who sympathized with Judaism without having fully accepted it, and to Christians. The members of such a community accepted a more or less defined and internally coherent, and to some extent even written -that is, scriptural- system of belief and practice, and tended to exist in a reactive, mutually defining relationship with other such (theoretically) closed systems, that is, other religious communities. Such coexistence further implied the possibility of abandoning the community of one's birth for another-in other words, the possibility of conversion. Acceptance across broad sections of society of this previously rare type of self-consciousness was among the distinguishing characteristics of the late antique world.(7)
The unselfconsciousness of traditional religion in the Roman Empire -what we call "paganism" or "polytheism"- is manifest especially in its lack of a distinctive name for itself. Threskeia, eusebeia, and nomos; hieros, hosios, and hagios; religio and pietas; sacer and sanctus: all these words lack the specific historical reference contained in such terms as "Jew" or "Christian."(8) Relations with the gods were conducted not according to the commandments of a scripture and an orthodoxy derived from it, but on the basis of traditional behaviour -an orthopraxy- reinforced by the ad hoc pronouncements of oracles or sometimes of sages, men like the 1st century Pythagorean Apollonius of Τyana or Emperor Julian, or the 5th century Platonist Proclus, who had studied the writings of ancient authorities and especially the poets, such as Homer and Hesiod.(9) Even to begin to form a mental picture of this vast, complex world of traditional polytheism, one needed exceptional resources and opportunities. Emperor Caracalla (211-217), for example, probably had a better grasp of the range of religious life in his day than almost anyone else alive, since he spent most of his time travelling or campaigning, and was so troubled in both mind and body that he made a point of visiting the principal oracular and healing shrines wherever he went.(10) It was Caracalla's mother, Julia Domna, who commissioned from Philostratus a biography of Apollonius of Τyana; but although the semi-fictional account Philostratus wrote takes its protagonist to holy places from Cadiz to the Ganges, it offers nothing to hold together the many gods and rituals Αpollonius encountered except the philosopher's own curiosity and piety.
In cities there was a greater variety of cultic activity concentrated in one place, and therefore a higher level of self-consciousness, than in the village. Yet distinctions between groups of worshipers, and even between associations that adopted the name of one god or another, tended to reflect personal choice and ethnic or occupational categories rather than any notion that preference for one god over another might imply a special way of life.(11) Many worshipers of Mithras were officials or soldiers; Jupiter Dolichenus, too, appealed to those with an army background. At Leptis Magna in Tripolitania, the temple of Sarapis was frequented -to judge from its totally Greek epigraphy- mainly by merchants and others from the east.(12) The cult association of the Iobacchi at Athens duly observed the festivals of Dionysus, and even on occasion assembled to hear a "theological" discourse in his honour; but the vivid inscription of ca. 175, which is our best source, exudes the clubbishness of those who need to remind themselves they have arrived.(13) Some divinities, like Isis, do seem to have been exceptionally widely esteemed, but their status was manifested more by association with other gods than by distinction from them, hence the tendency of Isis to adopt as epithets the names of numerous other goddesses (polyonymy).(14) If, in the 4th century, certain prominent polytheists liked to point out that it is natural for humans to pursue truth by many different ways, this observation was provoked not by tensions among rival groups of coreligionists but by the threat from Christianity, which denied the very existence of the traditional gods.(15) Judaism had struck polytheists as assimilable, because its austere monotheism did not, on the whole, seek to impose itself on non-Jews by proselytism.(16) It could, if necessary, be treated as one more ethnic cult.(17) But Christianity addressed itself to all mankind; and by the time of the Severans (193-235), the tendency toward dissolution of the traditional sense of local community that was likely to result from this may have been already apparent.
In either 212 or 213 Emperor Caracalla issued what has come to be known as the Constitutio Antoniniana, extending Roman citizenship to almost all his subjects with no distinction on grounds of faith. According to the fragmentary text preserved in a papyrus now at Giessen, Caracalla proclaimed that his motive for taking such a momentous step toward the integration of the empire was a wish to honour the gods and fill their sanctuaries with grateful worshipers.(18) The social model implicit here strongly resembles the traditional Roman civic one, with the whole community expected to come to the gods to give thanks and ensure continued favour: the Etruscan diviners were still demanding the same thing two centuries later. If Caracalla applied this traditional model to the whole empire rather than just the city, he was hardly innovating -official cults of emperors and of Rome had long sought to reinforce such broader loyalties. But Caracalla was perhaps also aware of a growing absenteeism from the temples at the local level, and he may have connected this with the spread of Christianity. Certainly the Cοnstitutio sought to reinforce the dwindling Roman sense of community that acknowledged differences of race and much else among the empire's peoples and gods alike, but saw no need for an idea as implicitly divisive as that of rendering God's to God and Caesar's to Caesar, since there could be no way of telling these two spheres apart. Nonetheless, the challenge presented by Christianity had, a century and a half later, become an oppressive everyday reality. Emperor Julian's response was blunt in the extreme:
if the citizens of Pessinus wished to enjoy his favour they should supplicate the Mother of the Gods forthwith, in a single body, pandēmei. Otherwise, he might even take measures against them (Ep. 84.431d-432a).
Only in the philosophical milieu -of, which Julian was a representative-, did the polytheist world offer something that resembled the religious communities fostered by scriptural religions. Philosophy was often set down in texts, which were carefully preserved and expounded, albeit not normally regarded as above criticism. And to adopt the philosophical life involved a choice-a conversion -which implied a rejection of alternatives and an introduction of distinctions and divisions into the prevailing model of society. Philosophers were perfectly aware of this, and divided about its possible consequences. Stoics insisted that the sage should continue to participate in the civic cults;(19) but the followers of Epicurus, who treated their founder and his literary legacy with unusual reverence, and formed closed circles defined solely in terms of belief, were regarded by outsiders with the suspicion the polytheist world reserved for private or surreptitious religion.(20) The conviction of the rabbis and philosophers,
that study makes holy was nonetheless destined for a long and influential life. In the ecumenical perspective characteristic of learned late polytheists, Porphyry of Tyre (234-ca. 301-305) drew particular attention to the habits of the Egyptian priesthood. Quoting one of its members, Chaeremon, Porphyry underlined how it had formed a caste apart (De abstinentia 4.6-8). Its members had lived in highly regulated communities, and had deplored the impiety of those who travelled outside Egypt and exposed themselves to alien ways. They had also been dedicated to science and the knowledge of the gods. Having discovered in their past this religious and almost scriptural community as a model, groups such as the later Platonists, and the Egyptian coteries that composed treatises under the name of Hermes Trismegistus, could adopt what they imagined to have been its conventions in their own lives and discourse. Perhaps this model even served, alongside the example offered by the church, as an impulse for the reforms to the priesthood proposed by the last polytheist emperors,
Maximinus Daia and the philosopher Julian.(21)
Not surprisingly, it was under an Egyptian priestly pseudonym, Abammon, that Porphyry's pupil the Syrian Platonist Iamblichus οf Apamea (d. ca. 320-325) sat down to write the only surviving account of ancient polytheism as a closed, coherent system. The title De mysteriis Aegyptiorum, by which Iamblichus's
Abammonis responsio ad epistolam Porphyri is now generally known is an inappropriate Renaissance invention, since Egyptian doctrines are touched on only summarily and toward the end, while the primary subject matter is the whole range of polytheists' experience of the divine. This experience Iamblichus sees as compounded οf both thought and action, theology and theurgy. Βy welding together a sophisticated Platonism and the wide spectrum of traditional cult including sacrifice, divination, and oracles, Iamblichus aroused opposition among polytheists as well as Christians. And the perfected "theurgists" who had mastered the whole of this sacred science, from healing and rainmaking to the vision of the demiurgic God, were bound to be a tiny elite, deploying skills easily misrepresented.(22) Yet unprejudiced study of the Abammοnis responsio reveals an understanding of the divine and human worlds as a coherent, interlinked hierarchy (4.2.184; 5.22); while the need for a clear exposition of this vision is underlined by veiled yet hardly ambiguous reference to the propaganda of the "atheist" Christians (3.31.179-180; 10.2). That Iamblichus saw fit to compile this summa of polytheist belief and cult implies that he thought there could be a polytheist or as he put it, theurgical community with an acquired consciousness of distinct identity as well as, of course, an appreciation of the variety of religious practice that was bound to occur within a genuine community with all its necessary range of human types. "One must make available this [material, corporeal] manner of worship to cities and peoples that have not been liberated from participation in generation and from close communion with bodies; otherwise one will fail to obtain either immaterial or material goods. For the former one will (anyway) not be able to receive, while as regards the latter one will not be offering that which is appropriate ... That which comes to one man with great effort and after a long time, at the culmination of the hieratic art, we should not declare to be common to all men, nor make it immediately the shared possession of novices in theurgy or even of those who are already half-initiated; for these people give a somewhat corporeal character to the practice of piety" (5.15.219-220, 20.228). And along with consciousness of distinct identity, such a community would also acquire a capacity for self-explanation and self-defence. The Abammonis responsio is itself, as its correct title makes plain, a polemical work, written to counter certain objections to theurgy raised by none other than Porphyry.
Clearly Iamblichus believed that this theurgical community would be stronger and more likely to survive than if polytheists just went on pretending there was nothing new in their environment, and ignoring the need to articulate themselves. Iamblichus's admirer Julian pushed this idea further when he became emperor, and tried to endow his tradition with some of the features that had contributed to the church's success: a hierarchically organized and well-instructed priestly class, regular liturgy and preaching, an accessible religious literature, and philanthropic ideals and institutions.(23) And Julian too was aware of the need for a name. Iamblichus had called the approach to the gods that underlay the whole tradition "theurgy," studiously preserving polytheism's avoidance of specific historical reference in the vocabulary it used to talk about itself, and implying a refusal to fight on an equal footing with Jews and Christians. Julian abandoned this high ground. By calling worshipers of the gods "Hellenes" and Christians "Galileans," he acknowledged that both sides were at least in the same arena, even if the Christians were an upstart provincial minority.(24) But both Iamblichus's and Julian's solutions were problematic, in that they might too easily be applied to a part rather than the whole. Just as theurgists -the accomplished masters of the tradition, that is- could be seen as a tiny elite, and even encouraged the idea,(25) so too Hellenism was not necessarily what every polytheist wanted to identify with.(26) Polytheism simply did not have a founder, revelation, or scripture of sufficient stature to generate a name that could be applied to the whole tradition-proof, if one is needed, that in the end this was a more than usually "imagined" tradition.
There are modern parallels, in Indonesia for example, to this reactive type of identity imparted by monotheistic and scriptural religions to the adherents of older ways.(27) In order to survive as communities, such traditions necessarily adjust, even at the cost of imposing on themselves a spurious homogeneity and watering down that instinctive understanding of divinity that comes through dwelling together with the gods in a certain place, a precise local knowledge that no distant prophet would or could ever make into a scripture. Survive, though, these local traditions do, and did in late antiquity as well. Seen from one perspective, late antiquity is primarily of interest for its "formation of Christendom"; but it also generated another model, the empire of communities -against authority's better judgment in the Roman sphere, with the connivance of authority in the Sassanian world, and as a matter of policy in the Islamic caliphate. And alongside or in succession to these empires there were also commonwealths, built in part on political but primarily on cultural- that is, religious-foundations.
Increasingly, polytheism survived as a mere remnant, though quite widespread in certain regions, or underground as crypto-polytheism, which might allow small local groups to develop a sharply focused religion-based sense of community in the face of adversity but was not a viable basis for regional structures.(28) Only in the minds of a few intellectuals like Iamblichus or Julian did polytheism as a whole, at all social levels, come to be seen as a religious communion. And even intellectuals were in practice more likely to experience the community as a diachronic succession, perhaps involving very few people at any given moment, rather than as a substantial, autonomous social organism. The Lives of the Philosophers and Sophists by the rhetor Εunapius of Sardis ca. 345-ca 414) is a good example of this approach from the end of the 4th century, and introduces the phenomenon of group biography, which not only bulks large in our evidence for religious communities at this period, but also itself helped define them. The production by both Nicaean Christians and their opponents of a number of such compilations from about the time of Theodosius Ι onward underlines the success of this emperor and his heirs in confirming Rome's adoption of Christianity, in particular its Nicaean version, as the official religion of the state.
Christianity had, of course, been a religious community long before it became the state religion. In the Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles, its adherents are most frequently referred to without explicit mention of their distinctive faith in Jesus Christ. They are "saints" or "brothers" or "disciples," who follow a "way"; but in Acts we also read how "for a whole year [Barnabus and Paul] met with the Church and taught great numbers of people; and the disciples were first called Christians at Antioch" (11:26). This pregnant passage implies much of what we need to know about Christianity as a religious community
Especially at this early stage, leaders -here Barnabus and Paul- were the sine qua non, since only through their teaching did the congregation, "great numbers of people" consisting entirely of converts, exist at all. Just as Acts is centred on the missionary work of the apostles, so Eusebius's Ecclesiastical History, the next most important account of the church's early progress, is built around the "apostolic succession" of bishops who led the major sees and, by fair means or foul, constantly consolidated and widened their territory.(29) On this hierarchy were focused the church's necessary institutions. Its self-organization presupposed a place of assembly, the ecclesia. Here were accommodated all the community's gatherings, especially the liturgy. And during the 4th and 5th centuries there evolved also a distinctive type of Christian art, or rather a Christianisation of late antique art, so that churches came to be adorned with images which, even when they seemed to preserve an earlier idiom, conveyed an unmistakably Christian message for those with eyes to see. In or near the church was a place for administering the sacrament of baptism, without which there was no true membership in the communion of the saints, or hope of salvation. As time went by, provision was also made for the poor and the sick. Indeed, Luke's very next verses (Acts 11:27-30) describe an act of charity, and toward fellow believers not at Antioch but in Palestine, for each ecclesia was but the local manifestation of a wider and potentially universal communion.
We are reminded by the fact that Barnabus and Paul tarried at Antioch "a whole year" how time as well as space was encompassed by the Christian revelation and the community it generated. The revelation itself had of necessity
been made within historical time, by God become man. The foundation documents of the faith were therefore, at one level, historical narratives. Then the succession of bishops, generation by generation, reinforced the possibility not only of perpetuating the teaching of the apostles, but also of creating a Christian chronology. On the profoundest level, sanctification of time was effected by the liturgy; by the development, especially during the 4th century, of a daily cycle of offices; and by an ever evolving calendar of festivals.(30) These commemorated the events of Christ's life, his sacrifice upon the Cross-a Pascha calculated never to coincide with its Jewish predecessor(31) -and his closest imitators the martyrs, over whose relics the Eucharist was celebrated in a powerful image of community and continuity.(32) Simultaneously the participant might see reflected the heavenly liturgy, and glimpse the angels gathered around God's throne in eternal praise.(33) The cycle of liturgy, offices, and festivals also offered a means of instruction, which Acts says was the apostles' chief concern at Antioch. In conjunction with homilies and catechisms and reading, the act of worship inculcated knowledge of the Scriptures and of the theology derived from them; and without its Scriptures, Christianity would at an early date have lost direction and been absorbed back into the synagogue. From the Scriptures, the community drew the narrative, belief, and discipline, even the very language that was at the heart of its identity.(34) All that was needed to confirm and proclaim that identity was a name.
Jesus had said he would be present even "where two or three are gathered together"; but it was on the whole felt that size and variety were positive factors in helping a community surmount the obstacles it was bound to encounter. Communities built of only one sort of person -virgins, for instance- were no more than sects, whereas the ship of Christ's church is made of many different woods.(35) Families, though they offered an effective medium for the dissemination of the gospel,(36) might easily be corrupted by heresy if the bishop did not exercise constant supervision.(37) As for numbers, Bishop Cornelius of Rome observed of the heretic Novatian that "this vindicator of the Gospel did not know that there should be one bishop in a catholic church, in which he was not ignorant -for how could he be?- that there are forty-six presbyters, seven deacons, seven sub deacons, forty-two acolytes, fifty-two exorcists, readers and doorkeepers, and above one thousand five hundred widows and persons in distress, all of whom are supported by the grace and loving kindness of the bishop. But not even did this great crowd, so necessary in the Church, and through God's providence abundant in number and multiplying, nor an immense
and countless laity, turn him from such a desperate failure and recall him to the Church."(38) Nonetheless, there was an optimum number for even the most energetic bishop's flock. And who would shepherd the bishops themselves? There was no avoiding this issue once Constantine resolved to make the whole empire Christian.
In certain of Constantine's pronouncements preserved by Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea, as well as in Eusebius's own works, it is possible to discern an ideal image of a Christian Roman empire treated as a single religious community.(39) Under one God reigned one emperor, who called himself "bishop of those outside [the Church]"; while the "bishops of those within" were regarded as providing absolute Christian authority, under Christ, each in his own community of course, but a fortiori when deliberating collectively in regional councils or at Nicaea, in a council designed to represent all Christendom, including the church in Iran.(40) The function of such gatherings was to provide guidance under the authority of Scripture and the Holy Spirit. And they excluded those who felt unable to communicate together in the same sacraments. Acceptance of scriptural and Episcopal authority, and participation in the sacraments, defined the Christian community both during the proceedings of the council -a rare, paradigmatic, even, as described by Eusebius, ideal event- and also when-ever or wherever else Christians gathered together. But still there was room for interpretation and therefore disagreement. Who would have the final word? Before Constantine, Christian congregations enforced their decisions by excluding those who did not comply. Under Constantine, the church succumbed to the temptation to repress its deviants, and with fatal logic made the emperor God's active representative on earth. With this move, the theoretical preconditions for the conversion of Rome into a single homogeneous religious community had been met.
If the Constantinian model had a decidedly vertical, exclusivist, and repressive aspect to it, reality organized itself, as usual, somewhat more horizontally -or better, perhaps, segmentally. Eunapius's work reveals painful awareness of the Constantinian model and simultaneously demonstrates its failure to eradicate dissent. From the 320s onward, polytheist philosophers were under constant suspicion, especially if their theurgical and in particular divinatory rituals were felt to be inspired by curiosity about the prospects of those in authority; but for Eunapius's readers these men and women were also proof of historical continuity and a living reinforcement, by example, of their doctrine. That such readers existed is guaranteed by the production of later works such as Marinus's biography of Proclus (d. 485) or Damascius's of Isidore (d. before 526), whose length and digressiveness, apparent even in its present fragmentary state, made of it; in effect, another group biography; it seems also to have been called a Philosophical History In these works a polytheist intellectual community comes to life, and thanks to them this community dominates our view of late Greek philosophy and even late Greek religion. It is an urban community dominated by scholars and founded on study of philosophical texts and on the right worship of the gods wherever and whenever possible. From a strictly sociohistorical point of view, it seems apter to describe these groups as circles rather than as a community; yet Eunapius's concentration on them to the exclusion of most of the rest of society (whose fortunes he treated in a separate work, the History), his skilful foregrounding of Julian, the only polytheist emperor after Constantine, and his emphasis on the groups' historical continuity as part of a "succession" (diadochē) create the comforting illusion of community amid a world of rapid and alienating change.
In the study of late polytheism, illusionism is far from being the prerogative only of late antique writers. Α romantic and of course very political school of thought used to hold that ancient polytheism -that of the temples rather than the schools- "survived" under a decent yet not suffocating veiling of Christianity.(41) In the extreme case of crypto-polytheism one might indeed literally turn around an icon of Christ and find Apollo painted on the back.(42) But what more usually happened was that late polytheism went on evolving, often -as in the case of Iamblichus and Julian- under the direct or indirect influence of Christianity, but also itself influencing the practices of ordinary Christians, so that in the resultant local fusions there was much, on both sides, that was passed to posterity, although impure and thoroughly alloyed. In the year 348, for example, according to an Arian historiographer "a mighty earthquake hit Beirut in Phoenicia, and the larger part of the town collapsed, with the result that a crowd of pagans came into the church and professed Christianity just like us. But some of them then introduced innovations and left, stripping off as it were the conventions of the Church. Dedicating a place of prayer they there received the crowd, and in all things imitated the Church, resembling us just as closely as the sect of the Samaritans does the Jews, but living like pagans."(43)
And then there was Augustine of Hippo, trying hard to dissuade his flock from holding a drunken festival in honour of one of their martyrs in the very church itself. He even tried to explain to them the historical background to their situation: "When peace was made after many violent persecutions, crowds of pagans were anxious to come over to the Christian name but were hindered by the fact that they were accustomed to spend their feast days with their idols in drunkenness and excessive banqueting, and could not easily abstain from those baneful but long-established pleasures. So our predecessors thought it good to make concessions for the time being to those weaker brethren, and to let them celebrate in honour of the holy martyrs other feast days, in place of those they were giving up, unlike them, at any rate, in profanation, though like them in excess. Now that they were bound together by the name of Christ and submissive to the yoke of his great authority, they must inherit the wholesome rules of sobriety, and these they could not oppose because of their veneration and fear for him whose rules they were. It was now high time, therefore, for such as had not the courage to deny that they were Christians, to begin to live according to the will of Christ, casting behind them, now that they were Christians, the concessions made to induce them to become Christians" (Ep. 29, trans. J. Η. Baxter).
In these situations, the church was unlikely ever to purge itself thoroughly of the old ways the converts brought; while the theological or, rather, pastoral principle of "economy" that Augustine alludes to in this passage might at times be unashamedly abused, as when Archbishop Theophilus of Alexandria consecrated Synesius bishop of Ptolemais even though, as a philosopher, he refused to entertain the idea that all matter will pass away, and had reservations about the resurrection as conventionally understood.(44) But it was no doubt sincerely believed that the old ways, of the philosophers and the illiterate alike, would not remain entirely untouched by the powerful liturgical and iconographical context in which they were now embedded, and that the new theology would seep, however slowly and anecdotally, into the subconscious of those unruly congregations.
Christians at the beginning had been forced to define themselves by reaction to a polytheist world. In the Christian world of late antiquity polytheists were in a similar position. Some even found the experience stimulating. Both sides made adjustments and accommodations. Even so, the influence of the different Christian communities on each other was naturally far more insidious: at the end of the letter just quoted, Augustine remarks how, even as he spoke to his own flock, "we could hear in the basilica of the [Donatist] heretics how they were celebrating their usual feastings" (Ep. 29.11). Opponents and supporters of Nicaea experienced the same proximity In the eastern empire from 337 until accession of Theodosius Ι in 379 (except under Julian and Jovian), opponents of Nicaea carried at any given moment considerable and at times overwhelming weight, and from 354 to 360 in the western empire too. Under Julian, Arians acquitted themselves with distinction, gaining many martyrs. Probably under Theodosius Ι, when the Arian ascendancy was threatened, these martyrs' acta were gathered together into an Arian martyrology, another group biography designed to set a good example, this time to Arian congregations called on to resist Nicaean persecution. Eventually, the triumphant Nicaean church was to adopt these soldiers of Christ as its own, drawing a discreet veil over their Christological shortcomings.(45) Try as the church might to apply legal exclusions to heretics, their communities were interwoven with those of the Nicaean Christians, while their culture was often too closely related to that of "orthodox" to be distinguishable.
In order to solve precisely this problem of how Christians, or at least their pastors, might tell sound from unsound doctrine, the church generated a variant form of group biography, the catalogue of heresies. Irenaeus and Hipolytus were early exponents of this genre, which was closely related to the combination of philosophical biography and doxography we find in Diogenes Laertius's Lives and Opinions of Eminent Philosophers. But the most impressive collection of heresies is to be found in the "medicine chest," the Panarion, that Bishop Epiphanius of Salamis was busy stocking up between ca. 375 and ca. 378. Among the more extensive compendia of "research" to have survived from antiquity, the Panarion contains historical and biographical information about the heresiarchs and their followers, and summaries and refutations of their teaching. Such works were used for reference and as sources of proof texts during the deliberations of church councils, which proceeded according to the same principle that animated the heresiologists, namely that Christian doctrine was best defined in brief, pregnant statements such as the Nicaean creed or the De fide appended to the Panarion, and elaborated only when it became necessary to exclude some specific error. As a principle on which to found a universal religious community, this avoidance of the temptation to spell out every last detail, especially in the sphere of the individual's personal knowledge of God, had much to commend it. It compensated somewhat for Christianity's insistence on adherence to creedal formulations, however summary, instead of the general gratitude and reverence that Caracalla had thought sufficient for the maintenance of the polytheist empire.
The career of Epiphanius of Salamis illustrates the way that monks were among the most zealous drawers of boundaries (especially against polytheism) and upholders of what they saw as doctrinal rectitude. In the monastic sphere we find in the late 4th and 5th centuries a tremendous interest in the use of group biography in order to define and propagate a communal way of life. The anonymous History of the Monks in Egypt (ca. 400) and Palladius's Lausiac History (ca. 419-420) are travelogues and recollections of personal encounters that did much to crystallize the image of the ascetic way of life. The various collections of sayings of the desert fathers, the Apophthegmata patrum that were compiled in the later 5th century, tend to a more doxographical or gnomological approach, but still abound in anecdotal biography. They are of special interest because they appear to preserve either the prevalent inside view of the anachoretic community that developed at Nitria, Kellia, and especially Scetis, or at least the views of persons who considered themselves the community's direct heirs.(46)
Α wide and flexible range of relationships prevailed among the anchorites in the Apophthegmata, who could nevertheless be portrayed as members of a community in the loose sense. The Lives of Pachomius, whose writers' anecdotal style suggests an origin in materials similar to the Apophthegmata, depict a far more formal, structured style of living together, the cenobitic monastery under the governance of an abbot.(47) In the sense that Pachomius's life (and Life) was itself as good as a rule, his monasteries were founded on individual example; but the monk's personal relationship with God was worked out in a strictly corporate context which encouraged members of the community to participate in each other's practical spiritual development. Theological speculation was of little concern in these circles -it might too easily lead to schism, as in the wider church. Instead, Pachomius offered his followers a light. He once told them of a dream in which he had seen brothers wandering lost in a vast, gloomy, pillared hall- apparently one of the temples of the old Egyptian gods. From all sides they could hear voices crying: "See, the light is here!" But it was impossible to work out where the voices were coming from, and eventually they began to despair. Then they beheld a lamp advancing in the dark, and a crowd of men following it. The brothers followed, each holding onto the shoulder of the one in front. Those who let go were lost in the shadows, and all those behind them. But as many as followed steadfastly were able to ascend through a doorway toward the light (Vita prima S. Pachomii 102).
The charming simplicity of this vision would have bemused Athanasius. Not that Pachomius was ineffective in the environment he created: the monks became in turn the shock troops of Nicaea. But neither Nicaea's triumph under Theodosius Ι nor Arianism's retreat to the Germanic successor states in the west (where it was just what was needed to reinforce Gothic identity against the siren song of romanitas) prevented the Christological debates that rekindled in the 5th century from bringing about a situation in which the Constantinian paradigm could be imposed only on a much reduced Balkan and Anatolian empire, while the eastern provinces went their own way. The "solution" proposed at the fourth ecumenical council at Chalcedon in 451 was to split the empire into irrevocably hostile communities, and fracture even the monastic world.
From the moment Justin Ι (518-527) became emperor, it was evident that Constantinople would no longer compromise with Chalcedon's opponents, the Miaphysites, who emphasized the one incarnate nature of the Word, but only in extreme cases doubted the Saviour's consubstantiality with man -against the fourth ecumenical council's insistence on two natures inseparably united (an apparent Dyophysitism that could all too easily be denounced as Nestorianism).(48) Until the 520s, pro- and anti-Chalcedonian factions commonly coexisted, without open rupture, within the same see; but once Justinian was enthroned, the council's opponents took the steps needed to create their own episcopal hierarchy, in order to guarantee ordination of priests to celebrate sacraments free of Chalcedonian pollution. The wide-ranging missionary activities of figures such as Jacob Baradaeus and Simeon of Beth-Arsham simultaneously propagated the anti-Chalcedonian position and maintained contact between far-flung communities; while the frequently repressive response of the Chalcedonian hierarchy and the imperial authorities focused and strengthened allegiances at the lοcal level, which often crystallized around anti-Chalcedonian monastic communities.(49) John of Ephesus, in his Lives of the Eastern Saints (ca. 566-568), provided an attractive and inspiring group biography, at least for the Syriac-speaking world. The anti-Chalcedonian churches of Egypt, Syria, and Armenia were aware, despite often-bitter disputes among themselves, of a shared faith, and of the desirability of apparent unity. Constantine and Nicaea were their slogans, and they continued to pray for the emperor in Constantinople and for his illumination, because their Roman identity remained strong. Although in the immediate present they were a persecuted and outlawed community, they believed in the restoration of a single Roman Christian church, even if this hope sometimes took on an eschatological tinge.(50) It became increasingly apparent that the Roman empire had entered a phase of semi-permanent creedal segmentation. It had become an empire of two main communities, both of them Christian.
But what of Christians outside the empire? Rome's self-identification with the church had created a situation in which Christians beyond the frontiers might be implicated in the empire's political aspirations. For this reason, Christians in Iran were eventually prepared to identify themselves with theological positions that Rome labelled Nestorian, so as to underline their separate identity for the benefit of their Sassanian rulers. And once Rome's own eastern provinces began to dissociate themselves from the imperial church, it was natural for anti-Chalcedonian views to take root in Iranian territory too.(51) Syria-Mesopotamia was geographically a continuum, and the political boundary that ran through it had little cultural significance. In the contested sphere between the two empires, a string of sometimes more, sometimes less independent Christian polities -Armenia, the Ghassanid Arabs, Himyar Aksum, and Nubia- saw advantage in the emergence of a powerful anti-Chalcedonian community free from Constantinople's supervision. In the vast area between the Taurus and the Arabian Sea, the Zagros and the Mediterranean, there emerged a commonwealth of peoples held together by the distinctive form of Christianity they shared, and by their hankering after a Constantinian paradigm occluded but by no means invalidated by the Christological strife since Nicaea. The force of this Constantinian and Nicaean ideal was such that the commonwealth was clearly east Roman in its orientation, just as its theological culture was essentially Greek. Yet only beyond the Roman frontier in the polities that perched uneasily between Rome and Iran, or in the Iranian empire itself, could Chalcedon's opponents breathe freely. The Sassanians recognized both them and the majority Nestorian church as official religious communities, with a status inferior to that of official Mazdaism, but comparable to that of the Jewish community.
Sassanian monarchs might marry Christians or Jews, and even display personal interest in the teachings of these religions, but none of them ever converted. They were too dependent on an aristocracy and a priesthood, the magi, at once hereditary
and strongly Iranian. Mazdaism itself was very much a religion of Iranians, and was highly conservative, doing without a written version of its scripture, the Avesta, until perhaps as late as the 6th century, and preserving markedly polytheist elements even
longer.(52) But the magi knew a threat to their social and political position when they saw one. Right at the beginning of the Sassanian period, the Mesopotamian prophet Μani (226-276) had challenged them on their own territory. Manichaeism was a dynamic, polyglot, scriptural dualism of thoroughly universalistic aspiration, deeply indebted to both Christianity and Mazdaism.(53) Had it captured the Iranian empire-Shapur Ι (239/240[241/242?]-270/272) apparently showed some interest -it would surely have become as involved in the exercise of power as the Christian church under Constantine and his heirs.(54) But the magi counterattacked, Μani died in prison, and his followers concentrated their energies on the missions Μani himself had set in motion, so that small Manichean communities were soon scattered across the Mediterranean world as fax as the Atlantic, as well as eastward into Central Asia. But within the Roman and Sassanian empires, the Manicheans were always feared and repressed. Only to the east of the Sassanian realms did they manage to take firmer root.
As an original religious teacher who wrote his own scriptures rather than leaving the job to disciples, created a structured community, launched organized missions, and thought seriously about the possibility of converting the rulers of this world, Μani was rightly feared. He reminds us more of Muhammad than of Christ. Likewise, it is the Sassanian rather than the Roman empire that presents the clearer precedent for the political arrangements adumbrated in the Qur'ān. Something should be said of Iran's Christians, and of the Jews in both empires, in their own right and in the perspective of Islam.
The Jewish communities in the Roman and Iranian empires were led -sometimes nominally, at other times very actively- by hereditary officials of allegedly Davidic lineage called respectively patriarch and exilarch.(53) But although the imperial authorities appreciated the advantage of having a single Jewish interlocutor, the line of patriarchs died out in 429, while the exilarchate went through difficult times under the later Sassanians. And anyway it was the rabbinical class that took the lead in organizing local communal institutions, encouraged the religious observances without which there could be no living sense of a community and its boundaries, and produced those two bodies of commentary on the Torah, namely the Mishnah and the Talmud, from which we derive most of our knowledge of late antique Judaism, and to which Judaism was thenceforth to look for a touchstone of communal identity. This rabbinical literature adopts a gnomological and occasionally anecdotal format that reminds one of the Apophthegmata patrum-though the subject matter is very different.(56) Once more we observe that characteristic phenomenon of late antiquity, the formation of a community identity by a class of people either learned or holy or both, acting in person, of course, but also making themselves known to much wider circles through gnomology and group biography.
This is not to say that these literary genres excluded the development of others more discursive in style, such as the vast mass of Christian patristic literature made up of treatises, commentaries, sermons, letters, and so forth. But the popularity of gnomological literature and anecdotal biography is especially significant, because it underlines the role of memorization and of a basic literacy, at least an oral literacy, at all social levels, acting to form a community around a written tradition, but also around individual exponents of that tradition -the sages. Judaism and Islam in particular lacking the sacramental dimension of Christianity, were to become communities of students, religions built on texts in languages that were intrinsically sacred, all the more so for being incomprehensible even to many of those who learned by rote texts written in them, squatting long hours in childhood, maturity, and old age by the pillars of synagogue or mosque. At the heart of these communities, a pure world of signs was -and is- being performed rather than rationally reflected upon. But the performance, the recitation, reveals a different sort of rational triumph, that of the spirit-filled man of God over the brute urges which at all times threaten the community's integrity.(57)
Christianity, too, revered its sages, the apostles and the Fathers of the church. But until the 4th century, sanctity meant quite simply martyrdom, surrendering one's life for one's belief in Christ, as Christ himself had suffered for humanity's redemption. Study had no necessary part in the making of saints, while historical memory of their sacrifice was maintained as much through the liturgy as through hagiography. But as the church adapted to the world, its literature came to reflect a more complex relationship. Accordingly, Sassanian Christianity is accessible to us today mainly through two literary genres which are both eloquent about the formation of community.(58) The so-called Acts ο f the Persian Martyrs circulated widely west of the frontier as well, and were an important medium through which Roman Christians became aware of their cousins in Iran.(59) Most of the martyrs gained their crowns during the four decades of persecution that ended with Shapur II's death in 379, and their deaths were presumably caused by the Magians' wish to forestall any repercussions of the Constantinian revolution east of the Euphrates. In this they were successful, and the Christian community was ever thereafter careful to underline its loyalism, although its favouring of Antiochene (Nestorian) Christology may have been a reaction to the spread of Miaphysitism in Iranian territory, as well as an attempt to mark its distance from the empire of east Rome.
The other main literary -or at least written- legacy of Sassanian Christianity is contained in the proceedings of its ecclesiastical synods. Like the Torah and its successive layers of interpretation, the canon law formulated at these synods came to cover all civil matters -marriage, property, and inheritance- and not just church business narrowly defined. And like the Jewish exilarch, the katholikos or patriarch of the east at Seleucia was made responsible not only for the administration of justice to his fellow religionists (and thus also for their good behaviour, but also for the collection of taxes. In effect, the church became a state agency. In this way the community both tightened its own bonds and acquired a secular, administrative identity recognizable to those who had no knowledge of Christian doctrine. That doctrine, meanwhile, as well as being spread through the liturgy, was disseminated within the community through a network of schools that reached down to the village level and taught the Antiochene theology of Theodore of Mopsuestia rendered into Syriac and made accessible to the uneducated through hymns. The monasteries were another major factor in the formation of a Nestorian identity, for the monks were vigorous teachers and proselytisers, and acutely aware of the difference between themselves and the Miaphysites, from whom they distinguished themselves even in their costume and tonsure.
Naturally enough, the community boundaries so sedulously built up and maintained by religious elites were constantly being eroded by the everyday reality of intercourse between ordinary people, especially in commercial contexts. Nonetheless, the compact nature of the Jewish and Christian communities of the Sassanian empire, compared to their counterparts under Rome, did give them a certain innate coherence, which was further sharpened by the unsympathetic Mazdean environment and by the intense competitiveness of the Christian sects. The relatively uncentralized character of the Sassanian state, especially before the reforms of Kavad Ι (488-496, 499-531) and Khosro Ι (531-579), likewise favoured the development
of community identity. And whereas in the Roman empire the Jews were the sole recognized community other than the approved variety of Christianity, the Sassanians recognized Jews, Nestorians, and non-Chalcedonians or Miaphysites, as well as Mazdeans. This coexistence of recognized and scriptural communities not only continued after the Muslim conquest, but also provides the clearest precedent in the pre-Islamic world for the Qur'āns general principle that "people of the Book" should be tolerated.(60)
Initially, at least, Islam was an Arabic monotheism, and a Muslim Arabian elite, which had no motive either to force the conversion, ran the army and state of those whose beliefs were reasonably inoffensive -that is, not polytheistic-
or to deny the universality of the Qur'ān's teaching by actively impeding those who wished to join the 'umma (community) of Islam. Recognition of separate and subordinate communities of non-Muslims, obliged to pay a special tax (jizya) in return for protected status (dhimma), turned out to be an ideal device for regulating the large and sophisticated populations that suddenly had fallen under Muslim rule.(61) Unlike Christian Rome, the Islamic empire was prepared to preserve the religious life of any community that had a scripture; while unlike the Sassanian state, the caliphate was committed in principle to this policy, for it had been enjoined by Allah on the Prophet Muhammad.
The approved communities, the "people of the Book" (ahl al-Kitāb), are named in three passages in the Qur'ān (2:63, 5:69-70, 22:18) as the Jews, the Christians, and the Sābi'a. Although the Qur'ān also contains much criticism of these peoples' beliefs, they are distinguished from the polytheists, whose traditions Muhammad knew well and rejected utterly. As a response to major religious communities of the late antique world, and to the problem of how to create a new one that could learn from its predecessors' mistakes, the Qur'ān is a unique document that deserves a more prominent place in the study of late antique religion than has so far been accorded it. To convey in a brief space the way in which the Qur'ān's statements on this subject brought about, in practice, the transition from polytheism to membership in the Islamic empire of communities, we may consider the Sābi'a and a minor but instructive incident that occurred in the year 830.
For Muhammad, it seems that the Sābi'a were a sect of baptizers, probably identical with the Elchasaites of Mesopotamia, the sect into which Mani had been born; but this group was never widely known in the lands of Islam.(62) In the year 830, the Caliph al-Μa'mūn passed through the city of Harran in northern Mesopotamia on his way to campaign against the east Romans, and was struck by the peculiar garb and hairstyle of some of those who came to greet him. In this way he discovered that the city contained a substantial remnant of star worshipers, who probably owed their survival to the sensitive position they occupied between the Roman empire on the one hand and the Iranian empire and later the caliphate on the other. Enraged by the persistence of such a substantial group of idolaters within the caliphate, al-Μa'mūn ordered them to adopt one of the approved religions before he returned from his campaign against the Christian empire.
Although some complied and became Muslims or Christians, others devised the ingenious stratagem of renaming themselves Sābi'a. After all, if nobody else knew who these people were, why not adopt their identity and claim the protec-tion the Qur'āη afforded? In this way the "Sabians" managed to survive for at least another two centuries, and perennially to fascinate Muslim historians and geographers, who describe them as a community with a priesthood, a highly developed calendar of religious observance, and a marked sense of its own history and identity. This fascination was not just antiquarian. Muslims believed that polytheism had once been the religion of all mankind; and these earlier polytheists, too, they naturally called Sābi'a, or Sabians. The first to perceive the error of this belief, and to proclaim the unicity of God, had been Abraham, who had lived under King Nimrod's rule in Babylon before he fled via Harran to Palestine. Eventually, with his son Ishmael, he built the Κa`ba at Mecca.(63) In effect, Abraham had been the first Muslim. The continued existence of a Sabian polytheist community at Harran must have seemed a stunning confirmation of the Qur'ānic story of the origins of monotheism: while the figure of Abraham, the rejected prophet, along with a whole succession of other such "messengers" culled from the pages of the Hebrew Bible and ending with Jesus, son of Mary, provided a firm and universally familiar genealogy for the last and most evolved of all religious communities, the 'umma that Muhammad had brought into being (see, for example, Qur'ān 21).
There was, though, some elasticity regarding "peoples of the Book." In only one of the three Qur'ānic passages in question is Mazdaism alluded to, and even then ambiguously and in direct association with polytheism. Even so, it was tolerated in practice, as a kind of third-class religion.(64) And Islam itself did not for long remain monolithic. The 'umma soon became bitterly divided by struggles between different parties that saw themselves as Muhammad's heirs and could not decide whether inspiration should be regarded as having dried up on the Prophet's death, or as being still available within the community -the fateful divergence, in other words, between Sunnis and Shiites. Only after 'Αbd al-Malik re-established order in the 690s did it become possible to draw tighter the bonds that held the caliphate together from the Indus to the Atlantic, and to impose a more explicitly Islamic style in place of the earlier imitation of Roman and Sassanian models. And perhaps it was at this point that the classical Islamic 'umma first came clearly into focus, since it is likely that, in the early decades of the new faith's dissemination, amidst the heat and confusion of rapid conquest and internal strife, local loyalties and identities had tended to prevail over any wider vision.(65)
That wider vision was focused in part on the person of the caliph, who held in his hands interdependent religious and politico-military authority, just as the Prophet himself had exercised absolute authority in order to make of the Muslim community an effective brotherhood (Qur'ān 49.11) and a substitute for the traditional clans its members had abandoned. Behind the caliph lay the Qur'ān, other sayings of the Prophet (hadith), and the whole complex of dogma and practice in the context of community that went under the general heading of sunna. In daily life, the community's identity and coherence were most clearly expressed not in the marketplace, as in Graeco-Roman cities, but at the place of congregational worship and indeed of judgment, the masjid; while the pilgrimage to Mecca, the hajj, imprinted in the mind of every participant the ecumenical dimension of Islam and its sacred history right back to the time of Abraham.(66) Rooted as it was in a world rich in Jewish, Christian, and Mazdean communities and traditions, Islam naturally drew on all of these; but to the cultural continuities thus accepted, a distinctively Muslim tone was always imparted, as one can see already in the Qur'ān's constant emphasis on the fact that Muhammad is called to purge the error of the monotheist and prophetic tradition of the Jews and Christians.
The mid 8th century transition from Umayyad to Abbasid rule, and the loss of Spain, did not weaken the Islamic empire, which attained its greatest glory under the early Abbasid caliphs ruling from the new capital at Baghdad. By al-Μa'mūn's day, though, strains were showing; by the early 10th century the empire was in full dissolution. But the social and cultural foundations of the
Islamic world had by then been firmly laid, and could not be shaken by any degree of political fragmentation. Conversion to Islam was by the 10th century making substantial inroads into the "peoples of the Book."(67) Nevertheless, these communities inherited from late antiquity remained vital contributors to the flexibility, entrepreneurial spirit, and international contacts that characterized the Islamic commonwealth; while the commonwealth became in turn one of the crossroads of the world economic system that began to emerge between the China Sea and the Atlantic by the 11th century and matured in the 13th.(68)
If 10th or 11th century Cairo, for example, seems to us the quintessential example of the classical Islamic city of communities, that is partly because Islam in general accorded a degree of recognition to other religions for which even the Sassanian world had offered only partial precedent, and partly because, as Shiites, the ruling Fatimids favoured other minority communities that were also attempting to survive in a Sunni environment.(69) And these communities were often by now beneficiaries of secondary identities accumulated over the centuries, best exemplified by the vast and increasingly systematized commentary literatures they had been producing throughout late antiquity. As well as the Torah, the Jews now had a Mishnah and a Talmud, none of which had been written down much before the year 200; while the Christians had generated an enormous body of theological writing, a luxurious growth that had spilled out from the narrow terraces of Scripture and could now, under Islam, be trained, pruned, and shaped at leisure. Hence John of Damascus's compilation of Christian doctrine, De fide orthodoxa, which in precisely 100 chapters covers everything from proof of God's existence to circumcision, in a systematic, accessible fashion that had seemed unnecessary when the church was comfortably enshrined within the all-powerful empire of Christian Rome. Tο his heirs in the Greek-speaking world John of Damascus bequeathed narrower horizons and a refusal to think constructively about Islam, typified by his supercilious account of Muhammad's life and teaching, the last entry in a catalogue of (again) 100 Christian heresies. But increasingly Christians, especially in John's Chalcedonian or "Melkite" tradition, wrote in Arabic too; and some were clever enough to see that the unrivalled clarity of the Qur'ān's language about God might be used in the service of the gospel as well.(70) In the Islamic world as in the Roman, religious communities derived from the experience of coexistence a sharper understanding of their own identity.
On the life of the Christian communities under Islam, literary sources such as the Arabic History οf the Patriarchs of Alexandria throw only a partial light, since their concern is with the way in which an elite-in this case, the leadership of the anti-Chalcedonian, Coptic church of Egypt -dealt with the Muslim authorities and conspired to fix succession to the community's highest offices, especially the patriarchal throne.(71) But the contents of the document depository of the synagogue of the Palestinians at Fustat, better known as the Cairo Geniza, have made possible an in-depth portrait of this not especially influential or privileged community's everyday life- a portrait that has been triumphantly drawn by S. D. Goitein in his Α Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the Arab World As Portrayed in the Documents ο f the Cairo Geniza.
Through Goitein's five vast volumes we come to know the Jews of Fustat as pars pro toto of the international Jewish community, in a world where long-distance travel was common and law was personal, not territorial: one was free to appeal to leading judges from one's own community even if they were resident in a foreign state. And this right of self-government, exercised within relatively small groupings in which a significant degree of individual participation was feasible (2:57), gave Christians and Jews one privilege denied to the great mass of Muslims, who had little opportunity to express a point of view in the hearing of those who controlled their destiny. There were no ghettoes either: the religious communities of Fustat were at once supraterritorial and closely intermixed, much more so than one would ever guess from literary sources like the History of the Patriarchs of Alexandria.
The deepest foundations of personal and communal identity were of course laid at home: "Before taking food or drink of any kind one would say the appropriate benediction, and grace ... after ... followed by an Amen by those present, so that the children learned them by listening. For them, opening the mouth for food without opening it first for a benediction would soon become awkward and unusual" (5:352).(72) But it was in the synagogue or church that the community felt itself most truly a community. "Α high claim to pride for any Geniza person was his ability to read and recite in public the Torah and the Prophets in their original language -a task to which he had dedicated most of his years in school. The emotion accompanying this performance found its expression in the benedictions said by him before and after the recital, respectively: 'Blessed be you ... who chose us of all nations and gave us his Torah' and 'who, by giving us a true Torah, planted eternal life within us' "(5:348).
If space allowed, Ι would say more about the formation of scriptural canons and commentaries, the formulation of liturgies, and the organization of study. These are processes that point to eternity, yet take place within historical time; and their prominence in the formation of religious communities illustrates how those communities' self-consciousness is in significant part historical memory, focused of course on the origin and development of their own distinctive beliefs and practices. Such memory -unlike awareness of eternity, or the need to conform to the annual cycle of the seasons- may be lost. In 1890, the British traveller and archaeologist David Hogarth crossed Lake Egridir in Anatolia to visit "a remnant of fifty Christian families huddle[d] at one end of the island, where is a church served by two priests. No service is held except on the greatest festivals, and then in Turkish, for neither priest nor laity understands a word of Greek. The priests told us that the families became fewer every year; the fathers could teach their children nothing about their ancestral faith, for they knew nothing themselves; the Moslems were 'eating them up'. We had to force the church door and brush dust and mould from a vellum service-book dated 1492. It was all like nothing so much as a visit to a deathbed."(73)
But while communities die out, their individual members may live on with new identities, and in so doing add in distinctive ways to the community of their adoption. Where there has been a long-term, intimate interpenetration, as in Ottoman Anatolia between Christians and Muslims, this is a relatively natural and easy process; but we have seen that something similar happened even in the more abrupt transition from polytheism to Christianity. In particular, the rapid rise of the cult of saints just as the temples were closing indicates that many communities never fully abandoned a diffused understanding of divinity. Once the trauma of transition had been healed, the same scriptural religions which in urban environments defined themselves in opposition to polytheism and each other turned out to be no less capable than polytheism of responding to the need of simple rural communities for a faith that expressed both their undivided, relatively unselfconscious identity and their awareness of dependence on a natural world whose external manifestations are multiple and seem, at times, contradictory. Just because in other places there were known to be fellow religionists of different hue, or even people who professed other faiths entirely, members of such Christianized or, eventually, Islamized communities did not necessarily feel constrained to relativize everything, or to deny the possibility of expressing man's intuition of the essential oneness and holiness of all creation in a specific, unique, and exclusive religious language. As the anthropologist Juliet du Boulay wrote in her account of a village in Northern Euboea in the 1960s:
"Their own religion they consider to be the only correct path to God, for they find on the whole what they hear of non-Christίan practices incredible and ludicrous, and what they hear of other denominations of Christianity strange and shocking. Inevitably, therefore, except when they are consciously defining ethnic and cultural differences, their concept of mankind is either an implicit extension of the Christian Orthodox world to cover all humanity of whatever actual faith, or the idea of humanity in general as Christendom, from which non-Christians are unconsciously excluded."(74)
The possible merits of unconscious exclusivism are not much considered in our time. Yet nor was the variety of religious communities -which some see as offering grounds for comparison with modern situations(75)- what most struck late antique observers. Almost all the literary evidence drawn on in this essay is oriented toward a single community or tradition and, whatever that community's debt to others, shows no disinterested curiosity about them, let alone esteem for the inherent merits of variety.(76) The Qur'ān, though it takes an exceptionally considered and generous approach to the religious communities of the late antique world, does so summarily, from the perspective of a revelation at the apex of a long historical development, and addressed to Arabs, in Arabic. Eventually Muslim scholars, most famous among them al-Shahrastānī (d. 1153 ), applied themselves to wide-ranging descriptions of al-milal wa'lnihal, that is, revealed faiths on the one hand and human speculations such as philosophy on the other anticipating in some respects the comparative study of religions. Yet even the broad-minded al-Shahrastānī dealt with his materials from a firmly monotheist, and ultimately Qur'ānic, perspective.(77) Even to educated city-dwellers, accustomed to pluralism, their own community's orthodοxy and coherence were what mattered most.
1. - Zosimus 5.40-41; and compare Sozomen, Historia ecclesiastica 9.6.3-6. Apparently both depend on a lost account by Olympiodorus, whose angle is probably reproduced more faithfully by his coreligionist Zosimus.
2. - Compare Sextus Pompeius Festus (2nd century), De significatione verborum, 284 (Lindsay): "Publica sacra, quae publico sumptu pro populo fiunt."
3. - Sozomen, Historia ecclesiastica 7.15, 20; Rufinus, Historia ecclesiastica 9.29; G. Fowden, The Egyptian Hermes: Α Historical Approach to the Late Ρagan Mind (Cambridge, Eng., 1986; repr with new preface, Ρrinceton, 1993), 13.
4. - IGUR 2:478-480. Only a minority of Roman epitaphs of Greek-speaking polytheists state the place of origin; but almost none allude to religious belief: Ι. Kajanto, Α Study of the Greek Epitaphs of Rome (Helsinki, 1963), 2, 38.
5. - Myst. 5.25.236; Julian, Contra Galilaeos fr, 21 (Masaracchia).
6. - Eusebius, Vit.Const. 2.23.2, records how Constantine sent out a letter in two versions, one "to the Churches of God," the other "to the peoples outside, city by city."
7. - See also J. North, "The Development of Religious Pluralism," in J. Lieu, J. North, and T. Rajak, eds., The Jews among Pagans and Christians in the Roman Empire (London,1992), 174-193.
8. W. Burkert, Greek Religion (Oxford and Cambridge, Mass., 1985), 268-275; J. Irmscher, "Der Terminus religio und seine antiken Entsprechungen im philologischen und religionsgeschichtlichen Vergleich," in U. Bianchi, ed., The Notion of "Religion" in Comparative Research (Rome, 1994), 63-73.
9. Philostratus, Vita Apollonii 4.24; Julian, Epistulae 89.300c-302a; Marinus, Vita Procli 15, 32.
10. - Dio Cassius 77.15.5-7.
11. - E. Poland, Geschichte des griechischen Vereinswesens (Leipzig, 1909), 5-6, 65, 173-176.
12. - Μ. F Squarciapino, Leptis Magna (Basel, 1966), 117.
13. - ΙG 2-3(2).1368.
14. - Fοr example, Ρ Οxy. 1380.
15. - Fοr example, Symmachus, Relatio 3.10; Augustine, Epistulae 104.12 (quoting the addressee, Nectarius οf Calama).
16. - See, recently, Ε. Will and C. Orrieux, "Proselytisme juif"? Histoire d'une erreur (Paris, 1992); Ρ. van Μinnen, "Drei Bemerkungen zur Geschichte des Judentums in der griechisch-romischen Welt," Zeitschrift fur Papyrologie und Epigraphi 100 (1994). 253-258.
17. - Julian, Contra Galilaeos frs. 19-20 (Masaracchia).
18. - Ρ Giess. 40 Ι; Κ. Buraselis, Theia Doreα (Athens, 1989), 20-21; P Α. Kuhlmann, Die Giessener literarischen Papyri und die Caracalla-Erlasse (Giessen, 1994), 217-239
19. - Marcus Aurelius 5.33, 6.30.
20. - Numenius, fr. 24 (des Places); Αelian, fr. 89 (Hercher).
21. - Compare, for example, Chaeremon's account with Julian, Epistulae 89.302d-303b.
22. - Iamblichus, Myst. 5.16-18, 10.6.
23. - Julian, Epistulae 84, 89; Sozomen, Historia ecclesiastica 5.16; Sallustius, De diis et mundο.
24. - Note especially Julian, Epistulae 98.400c, applying the term indiscriminately tο all the polytheist inhabitants of a town in Syria. Julian's highly political use of names is decried by Gregory οf Nazianzus, Orationes 4.76.
25. - For example, Julian, Οrationes 8.172d-173a.
26. - Corpus Hermeticum 16.1-2; Philostratus, Vita Αpollonii 3.32; Iamblichus, Μyst. 7 5 259.
27. - C. Geertz, The Interpretation of Cultures (New York, 1973 ), 181-189; R. S. Kipp and S. Rodgers, eds., Ιndοnesian Religions in Transition (Τucsοn, 1987).
28. - On crypto-polytheism see, for example, Libanius, Orationes 30.28; Zacharias Scholasticus, Vita Severi, 17-37 (Kugener); Procopius, Anecdota 11.32.
29. - On the role of episcopal violence in the definition of the community see Ρ. Brown, Religion and Society in the Age of Saint Augustine (London, 1972), 326-331; G. Fowden, "Bishops and Temples in the Eastern Roman Empire A.D. 320-435," Journal of Theological Studies 29 (1978): 53-78.
30. - C. Jones et al., eds., The Study of Liturgy (2nd ed., London, 1992), esp. 403-420, 472-484; and cf. R. Taft, The liturgy of the Hours in East and West: The Origins of the Divine Office and Its Meaning for Today (Collegeville, Μinn., 1986), 331-334.
31. - Eusebius, Vit.Const. 3.18.
32. - Ambrose, Epistulae 22.13. On the role of saints and their relics in the formation of Christian community, see Ρ. Brown, The Cult of the Saints: Its Rise and Function in Latin Christianity (Chicago, 1981).
33. - Jοhn Chrysostom, De sacerdotio 6.4 (PG 48.681); Palladius, Historia Lausiaca 18.25; Cyril of Scythopolis, Vita Euthymii 19; Gregory the Great, Dialogi 4.60.3; Liturgy of S. Βαsil, in F Ε. Brightman, ed., Liturgies Eastern and Western, vol. 1 (Oxford, 1896), 312.
34. - But see Apophthegmata patrum (Greek alphabetical series), in PG 65.128c-d, on preferring the language of the (desert) Fathers to the dangerous idiom οf the Scriptures.
35. - Epiphanius, Panarion 61.3.4-8.
36. - Sozomen, Historia ecclesiastica 5.15.14-17.
37. - Fοr example, Leo the Great Epistulae 1.1; and see Η. Ο. Maier "The Τopography of Heresy and Dissent in Late-Fourth-Century Rome," Ηistoria 44 (1995): 235-244.
38. - Eusebius, Historia ecclesiastica 6.43.11-12 (adapted from trans. by J. Ε. L. Oultοn).
39. - Α. Grillmeier, Jesus der Christus im Glauben der Kirche, vol. 1 (3rd ed., Freiburg, 1990), 386-403; G. Fowden, Empire to Commonwealth: Consequences of Monotheism in Late Antiquity (Princeton, 1993), 85-97.
40. - Eusebius, Vit.Const. 4.24; compare 2.23.2, and 1 Cor 5:12-13 (where it is God who judges those outside).
41. - Μ. Herzfeld, Ours Οnce More: Folklore, Ideology, and the Μaking of Modern Greece (Austin, 1982), 116-117.
42. - John of Ephesus, Historia ecclesiastica 3.3.29.
43. - "Aiian historiographer," J. Bidez and F Winkelmann, eds., Philostorgius, Kirchengeschichte (3rd ed., Berlin, 1981, 202-241) 23.
44. - Synesius, Epistulae 105. On "economy" as a necessary compensation for the rigidities and tensions οf a Christian empire, see G. Dagron, "La regle et l'exception: Analyse de la notion d'economie," in D. Simon, ed., Religiose Devianz: Untersuchungen zu sozialen, rechtlichen und theologischen Reaktiοnen auf religiose Abweichung im westlichen und ostlichen Mittelalter (Frankfurt am Main, 1990), 1-18.
45. - Η. C. Brennecke, Studien zur Geschichte der Ηomoer der Οsten bis zum Εnde der homoischen Reichskirche (Tubingen, 1988), 93-94, 152-157. The martyrology apparently formed part of the wοrk οf the "Αrian historiographer" (see n. 43). Compare also Ι.Shahid, The Martyrs of Najran: Νew Documents (Brussels, 1971), 200-207, for a similar conversion of anti-Chalcedonian martyrs into Chalcedonians in the 6th century.
46. - G. Gould, The Desert Fathers οn Monastic Community (Oxford, 1993), 1-25.
47. - Ι rely οn Ρ. Rousseau's sensitive account Pachomius: The Making of a Commuttity in Fourth-Century Egypt (Berkeley, 1985).
48. - W. Η. C. Frend, The Rise of the Monophysite Movement: Chapters in the History of the Churcb in the Fifth and Sixth Centuries (Cambridge, 1972; corrected repr. 1979), -254; Fowden, Empire to Commonwealth, 100-137 and esp. 124-137, for documentation of the points made in the next two paragraphs. "Miaphysitism" is a less misleading name than "monophysitism," which implicitly excludes the human aspect of Christ's one and undivided nature.
49. - Α. Palmer Μοnk und Μason on the Tigris Frontier: Τhe Early History of Τur Αbdin (Cambridge, 1990, 149-153.
50. - As in the natiοnal epic of Ethiopia, the Kebra Nagast, parts of which appear tο go back to the 6th century.
51. - M. Μοrοny, Iraq after the Muslim Conquest (Princeton, 1984), 372-380: Palmer Monk and Mason, 153-154.
52. - Μorony, Iraq, 280-305.
53. - Fowden, Empire to Commonwealth, 72-76.
54. - Cologne Μani Codex, 134-135, 163-164 (Α. Henrichs and L. Koenen, eds., Der Kolner Mani-Kodex: Uber das Werden seines Leibes [Opladen, 1988], 96, 112); C. Ε. Romer Manis fruhe Missionsreisen nach der Kolner Manibiographie (Opladen, 1994), 154-159.
55. - Rome: C.Th. 16.8; L. Ι. Levine, The Rabbinic Class οf Roman Palestine in Late Antiquity (Jecusalem, 1989); Μ. Goodman, "Jews and Judaism in the Mediterranean Diaspora in the Late Roman Period: The Limitations of Evidence,"Journal of Mediterranean Studies 4 (1994): 208-212, 220-221. Babylon: Μοrony, Iraq, 306-331.
56. - See the interesting remarks by Η. L. Strack and G. Stemberger, Introduction to the Talmud and Midrash (Edinburgh, 1991), 66-68.
57. - J. Glicken, "Sundanese Islam and the Value οf Hormat: Control, Obedience, and Social Location in West Java,"in Kipp and Rodgers, eds., Indonesian Religions, 240-244; Β. Αnderson, Imagined Communities: Reflections on the Origin and Spread of Nationalism (2nd ed., London, 1991), 12-16.
58. - J. Ρ. Asmussen, "Christians in Ιran," in W Β. Fisher and others, eds., The Cambridge History of Iran (Cambridge, 1968-1991), 3:924-948; Morony, Iraq, 332-383, 620-632.
59. - Ε. Κ. Fowden, The Barbarian Ρlain: Saint Sergius between Rome and Ιran (Berkeley, 1999), chap. 2.
60. - Note Tabari, Τa'rikh 1.991 (tr. Τ Noldeke, Geschichte der Perser und Araber zur des Sasaniden [Leiden, 1879], 268), for a succinct statement of this policy attribbuted tο Hormizd IV.
61. - C. Ε. Bosworth, "The Concept οf Dhimma in Εarly Islam," in Β. Braude and Β. Lewis, eds., Christians and Jews in the Ottoman Empire (New Υork, 1982), 1:37-51.
62. - Τ Fahd, "Sabi'a," Εncyclopedia of Islam, 2nd ed., 8:675-677. On the "Sabians" of Harran see D. Chwolsohn, Die Ssabier und der Ssabismus (St. Petersburg, 1856); Fowden, Empire to Commonwealth, 62-65.
63. - Η. Schutzinger,Ursprung und Entwicklung der arabischen Abrabam-Nimrod-Legende (Βonn, 1961); R. Firestone, Journeys in Ηoly Lands: The Εvolution of the Abraham -Ishmael Legends in Islamic Exegesis (Αlbany, 1990).
64. - Qur'an 22.18; Μ. G. Morony, "Madjus," Encyclopedia of Islam, 2nd ed., 5.1110-18; S. D. Goitein, Α Mediterranean Society: The Jewish Communities of the World as Portrayed in the Documents οf the Cairo Geniza (Berkeley, 1967-1993), 5: 334.
65. - On the 'umma see Μοrοny, Iraq, 431-506; Fowden, Empire to Commonwealth, 153-159.
66. - Νοt that οne should forget the sanctity of the Roman marketplace (Maximus οf Madauros, in Augustine, Epistulae 16.1), or the use of the courtyards of large Syrian temples as public squares (C.Th. 16.10.8).
67. - For recent comment on this complex subject see Μ. G. Μorony, "The Age of Conversions: Α Reassessment," in Μ. Gervers and R. J. Bikhazi, eds., Conversion and Continuity: Indigenous Christian Communities in Islamic Lands, Eighth to Eighteenth Centuries (Toronto, 1990), 135-150.
68. - J. L. Abu-Lughod, Before Εurορean Hegemony: The World System A.D. 1250-1350. (New York, 1989), especially chap. 7, "Cairo's Monopoly under the Slave Sultanate." On the Islamic Commonwealth see Fowden, Empire to Commonwealth, 160-168.
69. - But Goitein, in Mediterranean Society opines that the Fatimids "excelled in laissez faire, ουt of indolence ... rather than conviction" (2:404-405).
70. - S. Η: Griffith, "The First Christian Summa Theologiae in Arabic: Christian Kalam in Ninth-Century Palestine," in Gervers and Bikhazi, eds., Conversion and Cοntinuity, 15-31.
71. - History of the Patriarchs of Alexandria, ed. and trans. Β. Evetts, ΡΟ 1(2,4), 5(1), 10(5). See also Η. Kennedy, "The Melkite Church from the Islamic Conquest to the Crusades: Continuity and Adaptation in the Byzantine Legacy," in The 17th International Byzantine Congress: Major Papers (New Rochelle, Ν.Υ, 1986), 325-343.
72. - See also J. Assmann, Das kulturelle Gedachtnis: Schrift, Εrinnerung, und politische Identität in frühen Hochkulturen (Munich, 1992), 16: "Ιn the Seder celebration the child learns to say 'we,' as he becomes part of a history and a memory that creates and constitutes this 'we.' This problem and process is basic to every culture, although seldom so clearly visible."
73. - D. G. Hogarth, Α Wandering Scholar in the Levant (London, 1896), 84.
74. - J. du Boulay, Portrait of a Greek Mountain Village (Oxford, 1974; corrected repr. Limni, 1994), 42.
75. - E.g. Morony, Iraq, 524.
76. - See also Goitein, Mediterranean Society, 2:277.
77. - See al-Shahrastani, Al-milal wa'l-nihal, trans. D. Gimaret, G. Monnot, and J. Jolivet, Livre des religions et des sectes (Leuven, 1986-93 ).