Bryn Mawr Classical Review

BMCR 2012.11.61 on the BMCR blog

Bryn Mawr Classical Review 2012.11.61

Anne Lykke, Friedrich Schipper (ed.), Kult und Macht: Religion und Herrschaft im syro-palästinischen Raum Studien zu ihrer Wechselbeziehung in hellenistisch-römischer Zeit. Wissenschaftliche Untersuchungen zum Neuen Testament 2.Reihe, 319.   Tübingen:  Mohr Siebeck, 2011.  Pp. xv, 327.  ISBN 9783161500671.  €89.00.  

Reviewed by Ryan Boehm, Tulane University (

This volume is the result of a conference entitled “Kult und Macht. Zur Wechselbeziehung von Religion und Herrschaft im syro-palästinischen Raum in hellenistisch-römischer Zeit” held in May 2008 at the Georg-August- Universität Göttingen in connection with the Graduiertenkolleg “Götterbilder – Gottesbilder – Weltbilder: Polytheismus und Monotheismus in der Welt der Antike.” The published volume consists of the majority of the papers read at the conference, as well as several additional contributions.

A brief introduction by the editors describes the main goals of the conference and the volume. The central focus of the conference was the question of political power and authority in Syria-Palestine and its effect on and relationship to cult and religion. The editors highlight the need for an interdisciplinary approach to these issues, and a particular goal of the conference was to bring together specialists in archaeology and Biblical studies. Working from this central question, the editors outline the main themes of the conference as follows: “Kulturkontakte, Kulturkonflikte und Inkulturation; Individuelle und kollektive Identitäten in ihrer Selbstdarstellung und ihre Entwicklung unter ‘fremder’ Herrschaft; Religionen, Kulte, Heiligtümer: Institutionen in öffentlicher und privater Sphäre; Herrscherkulte–Kulte der Herrscher.”(VI) Twelve essays, spanning the Hellenistic to the early Islamic periods, follow this introduction.

Peter Arzt-Grabner’s contribution (“Der ‘Herr Jesus Christus’ und ‘Caesar, der Herr’ – über die Anfänge einer Konfrontation”) examines the use of the title kurios as applied to Jesus and Roman emperors in everyday texts on papyrus and similar media, which he takes as a case study for understanding the origins of the way in which the terminology and titulature of Christianity ultimately became engaged in a polemical discourse with that of the imperial cult. For Arzt-Grabner, the degree to which the title kurios became elevated to a central place in both Christianity and the imperial cult made an ideological conflict inevitable.

Per Bilde (“Der Konflikt zwischen Gaius Caligula und den Juden über die Aufstellung einer Kaiserstatue im Tempel von Jerusalem”) returns to the old problem of Caligula’s attempt to erect a statue of himself in the temple of Jersualem. Bilde gives a useful review of the sources, previous scholarship, and methodological observations on how to approach such instances of conflict (with particular focus on a comparative approach). Bilde then argues for a resolution of the discrepancy between our main Jewish sources (Philo and Josephus) and the brief notices of Tacitus, preferring to view the affair as a violent, armed conflict that was only resolved by the death of Caligula. Josephus and Philo were writing with a view to making a new beginning after the crisis, which accounts for the apologetic nature of their accounts.

Konrad Huber (“In der Vollmacht des Satans. Antirömische Herrschaftskritik in der Vision des ‘Tieres aus dem Meer’ in Offb 13, 1–10”) analyses the imagery of the “beast from the sea” in Revelation 13. Huber offers a detailed and valuable reading of the context and parallels of the imagery of the beast both in its wider Biblical and Near Eastern background and seeks to place the passage more securely within the context of reactions to Roman ruler cult.

Hans-Peter Kuhnen (“Grenzen der Romanisierung. Massebenkulte und die Entstehung islamischer Kultbauten im Vorfeld des Limes Arabiae et Palaestinae”) moves beyond the literary sources for the beginnings of Islam through a review of new archaeological research on early Islamic cult sites in Israel and Jordan. He puts his essay into the camp of scholars who view the origins of Islam as owing much to the Judeo-Christian context of the eastern provinces of the Roman Empire. Kuhnen conceives of the military zone of the Limes Arabiae et Palaestinae as a controlled contact zone between the populations of the provinces and the inhabitants of the desert. It is within this zone that Kuhnen traces the transition from the so-called Mazzevot sanctuaries of the Arabian tribes to early Islamic mosques, which Kuhnen argues constitute an important archaeological source for the beginnings of Islam.

Achim Lichtenberger (“Ein tropaeum Traiani in Arabia? Anmerkungen zur Tyche von Petra”) raises the question of whether the image of Tyche holding a tropaeum on the reverse of civic issues of Petra from the time of Hadrian might reflect the existence of a monumental tropaeum set up by Trajan after his annexation of the Nabataean kingdom in 106 CE. This iconography is paralleled only in Adraa and Bostra, guaranteeing its special importance to the province of Arabia. Lichtenberger proposes that the iconography on the coins engages a real monument, like that set up by Trajan in Adamklissi after the Dacian wars. The suggestion must, as Lichtenberger admits, remain tentative, but it is an attractive possibility that sheds some light on the circumstances surrounding the Roman absorption of the Nabataean kingdom, for which we are very little informed, as well as the local response.

Anne Lykke (“Politische und religiöse Identitäten auf jüdischen Münzen (bis 66 n. Chr.)”) surveys Jewish coinage as a source for the political and religious identity of the Jewish people in this period. Already with the so-called Yehud coinage of the Persian period, which combined direct borrowings from Athenian coins with deliberately archaizing inscriptions in the Paeleo-Hebrew script and local symbols (e.g. the lily), Jewish coins reflect a complex interaction local identity, religious concerns, and political realities. Lykke traces the intersection between political developments and concerns for Jewish identity through the periods of Ptolemaic and Seleukid domination, Hasmonean independence, and Herodian interaction with Rome. Finally, she identifies a clear shift in the numismatic record after the revolt of 66-70 BCE, when the official issues began to pay little heed to the religious sensitivities of the Jewish population, reversing the practices of the Roman procurators prior to this time.

Marion Meyer’s contribution (“Die Stadtgöttin von Caesarea Maritima – ‘Romanitas’ im Bild”) argues for a revised understanding of the significance of the iconography of the city goddess of Caesarea Maritima. This type subsequently was copied widely by cities in the province of Judaea. The combination of traditional elements from the repertoire of Hellenistic city goddesses and new features adopted from the iconography of Roman representations of Virtus or Roma have long struck scholars. Meyer first takes up the issue of the date of the original statue, opting for somewhere in the 60s CE rather than at the time of the city’s foundation under Herod. Rather than viewing this inclusion of “Romanitas” into the iconography of the city goddess of Caesarea as a top-down imposition of Roman authority on an imperial city, as previous scholars have, Meyer prefers to locate this shift in the turbulent period of tensions between the Jewish and non-Jewish inhabitants of the city and views this as a self-conscious attempt of the city to position itself within the empire.

Inge Nielsen (“Herrscher und Bäder. Die Badegewohnheiten in Palästina in der hellenistichen und früh-römischen Zeit”) examines baths and bathing culture as an index of cultural interaction between Jews and Hellenized populations. While ritual bathing was already a well-established custom among the Jews before the Hellenistic period, the widespread introduction of Greek and Roman bathing culture presents interesting questions of how far Jews accepted these practices. Nielsen presents a through survey of the evidence for the introduction of the miqveh (ritual bath) in palaces and private houses in the Hasmonean and Herodian period, and the construction of “secular” bathing facilities of the Hellenistic type in the wider region. Nielsen shows that Jewish traditions and rituals of bathing were largely compatible with Hellenistic and Roman bathing culture, though adapting it to some degree to make it suit their needs. In particular, the Jews stand out as the only group that altered the architectural form of the Roman bath (replacing the frigidarium with a miqveh) for religious reasons.

Markus Öhler (“Ethnos und Identität. Landsmannschaftliche Vereinigungen, Synagogen und christliche Gemeinden”) casts a wide net, considering various types of associations (koina, collegia, politeumata), Jewish synagogues, and Christian communities through the lens of “ethnicity and identity.” Öhler discusses examples of professional associations from various parts of the Hellenistic and Roman world. He goes on to suggest that the communities that made up Jewish synagogues in the Diaspora had much in common with other kinds of associations (especially from the perspective of non-Jews) and many were based on the origin of people who composed them. Finally, Öhler considers Christian communities from this perspective, especially the vexed issue of the role of ethnic customs like circumcision in early Christianity. He concludes that Christianity ultimately redefined the traditional terms of ethnic belonging to associations, appealing to a broader sense of belonging that transcended ethnicity, hence Tertullian’s famous description of Christians as a “tertium genus.”

Simone Paganini (“Priester an der Macht. Beobachtungen zum Verhältnis von Kult und Macht innerhalb des utopischen Gesellschaftsbildes der Tempelrolle”) discusses the so-called “Temple Scroll,” which she sees as not only a plan to construct a new temple in Jerusalem, but more importantly a new society centered around the priestly class and establishing new guidelines for cultic and ritual purity. Paganini focuses on the differences between the laws set down in Deuteronomy and the Temple Scroll, arguing that these changes are the key to interpreting this important text. The plan to build a new temple, in effect, stems from the need to signal a shift to the new society prescribed by the text.

Friedrich T. Schipper (“Herodes der Große und die griechische Athletik. Zwischen Hellenisierung, Romanisierung, und Herrscherkult”) analyzes three passages from Josephus relating to Herod’s patronage of Greek athletics: the introduction of games and contests in Jerusalem, the games in Caesarea Maritima, and Herod’s donation to Olympia. In the case of Jerusalem, Schipper argues that Herod made important concessions to Jewish sensitivities by replacing the religious symbols of the crown with gifts and subtracting normal components from the games. This also would have meant that these games were not a locus of imperial cult. Outside of Judaea, Herod operated with much more latitude, behaving in the traditional mode of a Hellenistic king and Roman protégé. Shipper suggests we see these instances as examples of Herod’s attempt to balance these two worlds.

Robert Wenning (“Tribale Frömmigkeit und royale Religionspolitik – Gottesverehrung der Nabatäer”) turns our attention back to the Nabataeans, arguing that the question of the relationship between political authority and religion is complicated by the disparate tribal affiliations of the Nabataeans. Here myriad local divinities based on tribal and family groups never allowed cultic or religious authority to become sufficiently concentrated, even as Nabataean society moved toward greater urbanization with centers like Petra and Bostra. Although the Nabataean kings (particularly Rabbel II) sought to consolidate their power and elevate gods with supra-regional significance, like Dushara, to central importance, the overall fractured state of Nabataean society played a much more vital role in determining the religious landscape of the Nabataeans than the political will of the king. As such, Wenning’s contribution is a useful reminder of the limitations of applying models too broadly across societies.

Each of these essays makes a valuable contribution to the scholarship on Hellenistic and Roman Palestine. The broad focus and interdisciplinary approach are certainly virtues of the volume in many respects, but the result is somewhat scattered. What precisely is meant by “Kult und Macht” remains vague, and perhaps more cross-referencing between these individual contributions might have advanced the discussion of this central theme further. The volume would certainly have benefited from a longer introduction, setting out a more precise definition of what is understood under the umbrella of “Kult und Macht” and exploring a broader theoretical basis for how religion, cult, ritual, and political power work together. However, the collection will certainly be of interest both to specialists in the religion, history, and archaeology of the region and to those concerned with the intersection and interrelationship of religion and political power. The text is well edited and mainly free of errors.1 Numerous illustrations and three indices also make the volume particularly user-friendly.


1.   I note only the following: “tu polemou” for “tou polemou” (p. 29); “jüdische Tetrachen” for “jüdische Tetrarchen” (p. 145); “Farge for “Frage” (p. 248).

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