BMCR 2000.01.12

Heiliges Wort und Heilige Schrift bei den Griechen: Hieroi Logoi und verwandte Erscheinungen

, Heiliges Wort und Heilige Schrift bei den Griechen: Hieroi Logoi und verwandte Erscheinungen. Tübingen: Gunter Narr Verlag, 1998. 250.

This is the lightly revised version of a Freiburg doctoral dissertation. The following topics are treated (1) oracles, with a division between the actual products of oracular shrines and the books of oracles (of Bakis, the Sibyl and the like) employed by chresmologoi (2) ‘orphic’ literature (3) the role of hieroi logoi in mystery cults, with a division between established cults such as that at Andania and the practice of roving initiators (4) the two supposed hieroi logoi of Pythagoras, one written in Ionian, one in Dorian (5) “egyptianizing” sacred writings — the hierê anagraphê of Euhemeros (with its account of an inscription supposedly set up by Zeus himself), the Isis aretalogies. That may sound like a rather miscellaneous set of topics, and the main weakness of this work, which has many strengths, is that it is. Though it appears in a series Scripta Oralia and though some attempt is made to tell a unified story about the Greeks’ failure to take ‘den Schritt zur Buchreligion mit kanonischem Schrifttum’ (p. 225: a dangerously teleological formulation), the emphasis in the treatment is on the parts: the many controversies about orphic-pythagorean literature are discussed in some detail, Euhemerus is fully (and interestingly) contextualized, the problem of distinguishing Egyptian material from Greek in the aretalogies is not neglected. A comprehensive study of the relation of writing to religion would have had to treat many topics not considered here, such as ‘exegetic’ literature and sacred laws. To hold that omission against Baumgarten would not be fair: such was not his aim (p. 13). But are not the Theogony and the Homeric Hymns potentially more relevant to his theme than the hieroi logoi of Pythagoras would have been even had he written one (which B. rightly concludes he did not)? The verbal similarity between ‘Heilige Schrift’ and hieros logos seems to have had some influence on his choice of subjects. But his hieroi logoi are, as he notes, very diverse (p. 222), and one may wonder whether the force of the adjective is the same in each case. (The meaning of the expression is not discussed, except — p. 147 — in relation to Pythagoras.) Is a hieros logos simply one that treats of sacred matters (cf. hieros nomos), or is it sacred in some deeper way?

Enough of this carping. The five essays into which, in effect, the book falls are each well-informed,1 judicious and thoughtful. The first, for instance, well explains why chresmologoi needed written support ( λαβὲ τὸ βιβλίον – Arist. Birds 974) whereas oracular shrines did not; the association between books and marginal or newly established cults is a theme throughout. The last well warns against speaking of the Isis aretalogies, as many have done, as ‘heilige Texte, den heiligen Schriften der grossen Buchreligionen vergleichbar’. And there are shrewd observations throughout.

I end with a detail. B. writes on p. 47 ‘Es gibt keine klare terminologische Scheidung zwischen χρησμολόγος and μᾶντις‘. That claim is often made, but the Aristophanic passage cited by B. in support of it proves the opposite ( Peace 1046: the person approaching is ‘not a mantis but [the chresmologos ] Hierocles’) and the texts occasionally adduced are late and unreliable.2 In authors of the 5th and 4th centuries the two functions are, as far as I know, always distinguished: Lampon, for instance, is a mantis, Hierocles a chresmologs. If reliable texts that blur the distinction really exist, let them be produced!


1. A few bibliographical omissions could be noted, however; the worst is the lack of a reference to Graf’s important treatment of Sibyls in Nordionische Kulte (1985).

2. So the Aristophanic scholia cited by J.H. Oliver, The Athenian Expounders of the Sacred and Ancestral Law, (1950), 11.