BMCR 2001.06.07

Identities in the Eastern Mediterranean in Antiquity. Mediterranean Archaeology v.11 (Proceedings of a Conference held at the Humanities Research Center in Canberra, 10-12 November 1997)

, Identities in the Eastern Mediterranean in Antiquity. Mediterranean Archaeology v.11 (Proceedings of a Conference held at the Humanities Research Center in Canberra, 10-12 November 1997). Sydney: University of Sydney, 1998. 294. Aus $48.00.

Participants (in order of printed articles): David Frankel, Jennifer M. Webb, Antonio Sagona, D. T. Potts, S. Blau, David Kennedy, Judith M. Lieu, G. W. Clarke, B. Frohlich, H. Jackson, J. Littleton, B. Rowney, D. Steele, Fergus Millar, M. C. A. Macdonald, Peter M. Brennan, Samuel N. C. Lieu, Philip Rousseau, Pauline Allen, Ahmad Shboul, Alan Walmsley

The papers included in this handsomely produced volume were delivered in a gathering honoring Fergus Millar. They range from an analysis of the assertion of individual identity in Cyprus of the Bronze Age (Frankel-Webb) and the Trans-Caucasus in the late prehistoric period (c. 3500-1600 BC) (Sagona), to an investigation of ethnic and linguistic groups in eastern Arabia from prehistoric to late pre-Islamic times (Potts-Blau) and an exploration of homiletic activity in sixth century Byzantium (Allen). The range of the contributions is impressive and one reviewer cannot provide a competent review of so many different topics drawn from several disciplines, not to mention a huge chronological span.

For convenience sake I am listing the titles of each paper. The volume also includes brief summaries of each article. Three faces of identity: ethnicity, community and status in the Cypriot Bronze Age (Frankel and Webb) Social identity and religious ritual in the Kura-Araxes cultural complex: Some observations from Sos Hoyuk (Sagona) Identities in the east Arabian region (Potts and Blau) The Identity of Roman Gerasa: An archaeological approach (Kennedy) The forging of Christian Identity (J. Lieu) Who built Shash Hamdan Tomb I? (Clarke et al.) Ethnic identity in the Roman Near East, AD 325-450: Language, religion and culture (Millar) Some reflections on epigraphy and ethnicity in the Roman Near East (Macdonald) The last of the Romans: Roman identity and Roman army in the late Roman Near East (Brennan) The self-identity of the Manichaeans in the Roman East (S. Lieu) The identity of the ascetic master in the Historia Religiosa of Theodoret of Cyrrhus: A new paideia? (Rousseau) The identity of sixth-century preachers and audiences in Byzantium (Allen) Identity and self-image in Syria-Palestine in the Transition from Byzantine to early Islamic rule: Arab Christians and Muslims (Shboul and Walmsley)

There is no gainsaying the crucial significance of the topic chosen for the occasion. By drawing on a wide range of sources and on a considerable geographical span, the contributions highlight the cultural diversity that had marked the Mediterranean from the start of the historical record. Many papers directly respond to suggestions raised by Millar in his numerous publications, including the center piece of this volume, which reflects on the growing dominance of Christianity within the Greek orbit of the Near Eastern provinces of the Roman empire between the 330s and the 450s. Millar emphasized the ubiquitous use of Greek, even by communities whose self expression appeared closely linked with a specific linguistic choice. His suggestion that, as yet, there was no connection between heresy and a specific language—other than Greek—is particularly important. It highlights the complexities of the making of Christian orthodoxy as a process of self-imposed distinctions and of the casting of heresy in terms that echo the separation of Christianity from Judaism in earlier centuries.

Judith Lieu focuses on the Jewish roots of early Christian identity and how Christian rhetoric of identity, as reflected in the 2nd century anonymous Epistle to Diognetus, contains intrinsic ambiguities that indicate the fragility of the rhetorical edifice. She rightly criticizes the notion that Christianity gained converts by appealing to the universal rather than to the Jewish particular, and raises questions regarding the integrity of indigenous articulations of Christian identity in the wake of missionary activities. In her analysis of the Epistle to Diognetus Lieu shows how the author tackles the dilemma of Christian identity through values already established by Jewish communities in the diaspora and by Jewish apologetic writings, rather than through a process of differentiation. Both Jewish and Christian communities faced a similar dilemma in balancing the equation between identity and integration. But the dependence of the Christian model on a Jewish one also generated an ambiguity that could not be resolved, as the adoption of a Jewish past to provide a Christian common denominator clearly illustrates.

Samuel Lieu examines recently discovered Manichaean texts in order to throw light on the group’s self identity and on the threat that it posed to the growing Christian orthodoxy in Late Antiquity. Particularly interesting are aspects of Manichean ‘culture’, such as Manichaean martyr cult, the adoption of its own canon of scriptures and wide ranging translation activities from Syriac into Greek and Coptic as part of extensive and energetic missionary activities. The article contains translations of important documents which highlight not only the sect’s appeal but also the vehemence and the vigor of the opposition, either imperial or theological. Thus, the Life of Porphyry of Gaza by Mark the Deacon illustrates how well integrated was Manichaeism into the public life of the late empire. This well known text presents a debate between a Manichee, Julia (sometimes presented as a pagan), and the bishop of Gaza, in the course of which the elderly woman dies. Her demise was taken as a token of “defeat,” and her followers, as well as “other gentiles”, duly “converted” to Nicene Christianity. Since Mark does not record the details of the disputation it is vital to resort to surviving Manichaean texts to perceive both the similarities and the differences of both sides. Perhaps the most striking aspect of this public polemic is the admission even by hostile observers of the decorous behavior of the Manichees, an attitude hardly reflected in the rhetorical violence employed by Porphyry.

The insistence of many rival groups in Late Antiquity on the value of teaching is explored by Philip Rousseau through Theodoret of Cyrrhus whose presentations as an ascetic teaching master reflect competing cultural claims and a continuing attachment to education. It is through this deliberate attachment to the traditional values of paideia that ascetics inscribed themselves into the imperial cultural frame, thereby gaining influence while pursuing a divergent manner of living. The examination of ascetic behavior before and after Chalcedon shows the continuing involvement of ascetics in the urban life of the empire. Rousseau further asserts, correctly to my mind, that the multiplicity of miracles must be understood within this urban, rather than a ‘desert’ culture and as a component of a carefully constructed imagery of urban “textual tranquillity” (p. 232).

In a way, the concern of ascetics to achieve respectability and acceptability, not to mention influence, through the appropriation of pedagogical skills and conventions illuminates the commonalities, rather than the differences among the various groups that competed over the allegiance of Mediterranean men and women in Late Antiquity. For this is precisely the imagery that the rabbis adopt in their reconstruction of Judaism, and this is the message of the Manichees as well. Thus, Pauline Allen’s probe into the world of the homilies provides significant insights into the dynamism that linked preachers and audiences in what can be viewed as another type of pedagogical interaction.

A group of archeological articles deal with specific sites (Kennedy on Gerasa; Clark et al on Shash Hamdan tomb) and with prehistory in Cyprus and Asia Minor, while Potts/Blau and Macdonald review the contribution of epigraphy to the formation of identity and, in Macdonald’s case, also to modern miscomprehension of terminology. Peter Brennan focuses on the army as the representative par excellence of all non-local influences in the Near East and as a microcosm of the processes that shaped identities in the Near East around the all-important focus of Roman power.

In sum, the volume offers food for thought on many important topics that engage scholars of antiquity.