Ancient Mediterranean Sacrifice

Ancient Mediterranean Sacrifice

by Jennifer Wright Knust, Zsuzsanna Varhelyi
     
 

Examining the diverse religious texts and practices of the late Hellenistic and Roman periods, this collection of essays investigates the many meanings and functions of ritual sacrifice in the ancient world. The essays survey sacrificial acts, ancient theories, and literary as well as artistic depictions of sacrifice, showing that any attempt to identify a single

Overview

Examining the diverse religious texts and practices of the late Hellenistic and Roman periods, this collection of essays investigates the many meanings and functions of ritual sacrifice in the ancient world. The essays survey sacrificial acts, ancient theories, and literary as well as artistic depictions of sacrifice, showing that any attempt to identify a single underlying significance of sacrifice is futile. Sacrifice cannot be defined merely as a primal expression of violence, despite the frequent equation of sacrifice to religion and sacrifice to violence in many modern scholarly works; nor is it sufficient to argue that all sacrifice can be explained by guilt, by the need to prepare and distribute animal flesh, or by the communal function of both the sacrificial ritual and the meal.
As the authors of these essays demonstrate, sacrifice may be invested with all of these meanings, or none of them. The killing of the animal, for example, may take place offstage rather than in sight, and the practical, day-to-day routine of plant and animal offerings may have been invested with meaning, too. Yet sacrificial acts, or discourses about these acts, did offer an important site of contestation for many ancient writers, even when the religions they were defending no longer participated in sacrifice. Negotiations over the meaning of sacrifice remained central to the competitive machinations of the literate elite, and their sophisticated theological arguments did not so much undermine sacrificial practice as continue to assume its essential validity.
Ancient Mediterranean Sacrifice offers new insight into the connections and differences among the Greek and Roman, Jewish and Christian religions.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"The intelligent creation of Jennifer Knust and Zsuzsanna Varhelyi, this book stands out as bright star in the firmament of current academic publishing. Its contributors go to the heart of one of the two central phenomena of ancient religions—the other being prayer—and hence the book will be of great value for many years to come."
—William V. Harris, Shepherd Professor of History, Columbia University

"These stimulating studies by leading scholars in a variety of disciplines will be essential reading for all those interested in current discussion of the meanings ascribed to the practice of sacrifice in ancient religions."—-Martin Goodman, Professor of Jewish Studies, University of Oxford

"Ancient Mediterranean Sacrifice is a model of theoretically-inflected interdisciplinary scholarship. Combining expert analyses of the ancient archive in its variety and particularity with a sustained reappraisal of the theoretical frames through which 'sacrifice' has been studied in the modern period, the contributors to this book wisely caution against the impulse toward a comprehensive and unified theory of 'sacrifice' in the abstract. The result is a first-rate study of lasting value."—-Elizabeth A. Castelli, Professor and Chair, Religion Department, Barnard College at Columbia University

This rich collection of essays is the fruit of a 2008 conference in Boston devoted to exploring the multiple meanings and functions of sacrifice across the Greek, Roman, Jewish, and Christian traditions in the late Hellenistic and Roman periods...Highly recommended."—CHOICE

"This useful volume offers an up-to-date examination of the topic by an interdisciplinary group of scholars in religious studies, history, and classics."—Religious Studies Review

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780199738960
Publisher:
Oxford University Press, USA
Publication date:
10/14/2011
Pages:
352
Product dimensions:
6.30(w) x 9.30(h) x 1.30(d)

Meet the Author

Jennifer Wright Knust is author of Abandoned to Lust: Sexual Slander and Ancient Christianity (2005). She has held fellowships from the Henry Luce III Foundation/Association of Theological Schools and the Humanities Foundation at Boston University and is completing a book on the transmission of the Biblical story of the woman taken in adultery.

Zsuzsanna Várhelyi works primarily on Roman social, cultural, and religious history. She is author of essays on Roman religion, sacrifice and ancient society, and her monograph, The Religion of Senators in the Roman Empire: Power and the Beyond, appeared in 2010. She is currently working on a book on Roman imperial selfhood.

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