Lived Ancient Religion Conference at the Augustinerkloster, Erfurt, 14th-16th January 2015: ‘Beyond Duty: Interacting with Religious Professionals and Appropriating Tradition in the Imperial Era’
I. Contesting Religious Expertise and Monopolies
Esther Eidinow: “In Search of the ‘Beggar-priest”
In Greek texts, the word agurtes, and related terms, are used to refer to beggars (e.g., Od. 19.284). But by the fifth century, this family of terms has acquired a more nuanced meaning: to describe itinerant sellers of ritual practices of various kinds. These associations appear to continue into the imperial period and beyond, associated with various activities including mantike and mystic initiatory rites.
However, although sources written in Greek continue to use and to reinforce the associations of this term agurtes, material in Latin does not yield up a term with similar associations, nor does it seem to use agurtes or related terms as loan words. It seems unlikely that there were not wandering purveyors of ritual practice who had Roman origins. However, when there is some evidence for such figures (for example, in the documentation related to the repression of 186BCE) the term is not used, nor is there any equivalent Roman term. Moreover, when the term is used in Greek, it seems to be used of non-Roman characters.
The evidence suggests that in the conception of this kind of wandering figure, a process of cultural distancing took place. This paper examines the transmission of the idea of the agurtes from its original ancient Greek conception to its use in the Roman Imperial period. It asks what this may suggests about the conception of the wandering ‘beggar-priest’ over this period.
Francesco Camia “Greek priests as ‘public’ actors facing imperial authority and civic tradition”
In Greek cities priests acted as public functionaries related to the social and political institutions of their community. The interplay between cultic personnel and political authority assumed different forms in relation with the shifting conditions brought forward by political and social changes. In the present paper I will focus on the Roman imperial period: based mostly on epigraphic documents from Greek cities I am going to analyse the role of priests as public ‘performers’ in their interplay with the new imperial power (and traditional civic institutions). Following the integration of the Greek world into the Empire Greek communities and their functionaries, including priests, came to be faced with a new (central) authority, embodied by the emperor. As they had traditionally done, Greeks used religion to cope with this new political situation by means of the integration of the emperor in their religious and symbolic world. Priests of the imperial cult were the ‘actors’ through which cities (and koina) pursued and achieved this objective. They not only managed the cults for the emperors, thus vehiculating the loyalty of their cities towards the central power, but also acted as ‘political’ mediators between their cities and the central power.
Not only priests of the imperial cult were directly faced with the new imperial power. At Athens, for example, Eleusinian priests in the accomplishment of their duties acted as initiators of the emperors, and we know that in some cases in order to satisfy the emperor’s needs they came to assume the responsibility to change the customary tradition by celebrating the mysteries a second time in the same year (at a different date); this was a potentially disruptive initiative which must have entailed a sort of ‘negotiation’ between imperial authority on the one hand and civic institutions on the other. More in general, the changed socio-political situation of the Greek world of imperial times brought forward also modifications in the way priests related to civic institutions. In this phase an emphasis on priests’ role as initiators of public benefactions (buildings, festivals, ecc.) can be seen through the epigraphic evidence (at least in some contexts), which reflects a growth in the social status of cultic personnel and is a consequence of a more general process of ‘oligarchisation’ of society which had already started from the Hellenistic period. In a way the new sociopolitical landscape of the Greek cities of the imperial period fostered priests’ public role, and this finds a reflection in the epigraphic examples of their euergetism.
Richard Gordon: “Contesting civic monopolies: Choosing Dionysus, choosing Mithras”
This paper is intended as a contribution to the first topic outlined in the Call for papers, “By-passing the Professionals and Contesting Religious Intermediaries”. Small-group religion has become a major focus of research over the past two decades, whether as such, or under the guise of work on mystery-cults other than Eleusis and Samothrace, or under the heading of the contested topic of ‘oriental cults’. It can thus be subsumed under the larger enterprise of outflanking the dominance of the paradigm of polis/civic religion. My general topic is religious innovation, authority and resources in small group religion under the Empire. The basic claim is that ideas developed outside the traditional religious framework of the Greek and Roman worlds offered greater imaginative scope to the type of small religious entrepreneurs I have elsewhere termed (Weberian) mystagogues than indigenous ones.
We might take the Egyptian deities, IOMDolichenus, Sabazius, the Diaspora of ancient Judaism and the Jesus movements as examples, but I have chosen to compare the small-group worship of Dionysus and that of Mithras. My title is of course an allusion to Anne-Franςoise Jaccottet’s Choisir Dionysos: Les associations dionysiaques ou la face cachée du Dionysme (2003). Unlike Jaccottet, I take choisir to refer to the organisers of such groups, not the members. But I fully agree with her that “Dionysiac cult” as practised in small groups or associations of the (mainly) Hellenic world was a completely heterogeneous affair, in which individual religious entrepreneurs organised their “religious supply” as they wished, drawing selectively upon civic cult, local traditions and personal invention. Yet it is striking how closely this type of worship, in the surviving evidence, was linked to civic sub-élites, how many entrepreneurs were also civic priests, how foundations and funding derive from practices familiar to these sub-élites. ‘Mystery experience’ of the type that could be generated within the framework of Dionysiac ideas was, I would say, simply not dense or atypical enough to constitute a set of goals separate from those subsumed by civic cult. By contrast the worship of Mithras, largely unencumbered with élite commitments, laid out a heroic myth of some dramatic force, integrated the ‘new’ cosmology fully into its concept of the world order, and offered a space for the construction of new, relatively focused experiences within the familiar general context of the dining-group. It was the idea of ‘Persia‘, unoccupied by civic religion, that stimulated entrepreneurial imaginations to offer new types of ethico-religious capital centred on the body.
Jörg Rüpke: “Public priests and religious innovation”
Research on new religious movements in the present and recent past has shown how short-lived the overwhelming majority of religious innovations in the form of new groups or practices are. This invites us to question received views regarding the fundamental continuity of priestly institutions and the services they offered in the imperial period. In my paper I will focus on singularities, new priesthoods, new forms of organization, new practices, new arguments, that are either ignored or treated as ‘tips of icebergs’ of lost evidence, which, had it survived, would have attested to lasting changes or permanent institutions. The paper will present a broad range of epigraphic and literary sources (Dio in particular).
AnneMarie Luijendijk: “Interactions among Religious Professionals at Oxyrhynchus”
This paper examines interactions among religious professionals and lay people in papyri from the ancient Egyptian city of Oxyrhynchus dating from the third and fourth century – a formative period in the life of the early church in Egypt. It will begin with a visit to Bishop Sotas, in office in the third quarter of the third century. Sotas left behind a small archive of correspondence with fellow bishops and lay members, mainly consisting of letters of recommendation. These are important for reconstructing the Christian community. I will incorporate new evidence about the Oxyrhynchite church in this period. I also situate Sotas among pagan priests in the third century. Departing from Sotas’s letters, the paper will branch out to letters by Christian priests. Finally, it addresses the question of female leaders in the city. This leads to an examination of the Oxyrhynchite nuns.
Georgia Petridou: “The curious case of Aelius Aristides: contesting religious and medical expertise in the Hieroi Logoi”
Unlike Alexander of Abonouteichos, the founder of the new theriomorphic cult of neos Asklepios Glykon, who has been discussed as a cultic reformer—most recently by Richard Gordon in Rüpke and Woolf (2013)—Αristides is not traditionally thought of as a religious innovator. This largely neglected research topic is the main focus of my paper. In my view, both Alexandros and Aristides addressed with their religious innovations deeper needs of the individual, who in a period of increased uniformity longs for privacy and exclusivity and answers to questions of eschatological nature. While Alexandros established a new religious institution, Aristides dealt differently with a pre-existing one. They both employed epiphany as a tool to invest themselves with authority and legitimise their actions and the both embarked on establishing an elaborate and extravagant model of elective affinities with the divine to support their claims on religious (in the case of Aristides, medical too) knowledge and authority. Above all, they both contested and appropriated priestly roles in their respective cults, thus rendering the pre-existing religious (and in Aristides’ case medical too) professionals obsolete. My paper focuses precisely on the process of appropriation of both the religious and the medical expertise and authority in the Aristides’ Hieroi Logoi.
Markus Vinzent: “Philosophy, the most precious and worthy asset - the Philosophers truly holy men”
The paper is going to look into how second century hellenized 'Jewish' and 'Christian' philosophers re-conceptualize sacrifice and temple-cult to compensated for what G. Stroumsa called one of the biggest challenge of the time, the cessation of sacrifices. Starting out with Justin's Dialogue with Trypho, I'd like to explore, how to nuance Stroumsa’s thesis that Christianity with its assumed priest-orientation was to some extent the more traditional re-invention of Judaism in the post 70 era compared to Rabbinic Judaism which, according to Stroumsa gave up priest and sacrifice by concentrating on the Torah.
II. Religious Reformation and the Body
Anja Klöckner: “Tertium genus? Representations of Religious Professionals in the Cults of Magna Mater / Cybele and Attis”
Belonging to the so-called ‚oriental’ cults, the cults of Magna Mater / Cybele and Attis featured many allegedly exotic elements, like ecstatic dances, loud music and strong smells. Presumably perceived as most exotic was the ambivalent sexual status of at least some of the priests of Magna Mater / Cybele: they followed their mythological prototype, Attis, by castrating themselves. Born as men, but deliberately mutilating their male bodies and renouncing their procreative capacity, they altered their physical appearance and attained an ambivalent status of sexual identity. Thus, they differed from other priests in particular as well as from most of their male contemporaries in general – and from every female contemporary, too. This paper will demonstrate how this status between the sexes is rendered in Roman visual media and how Religious Professionals in the cults of Magna Mater / Cybele represented themselves in public: in sanctuaries, on fora and in necropoleis. The aim is not only to describe deviations from the norm and to analyse their semantics, regarding garment and conspicuous ritual paraphernalia as well as gesture and body language, but to show how iconographical and typological markers of difference are used to create certain grades of otherness in material representations.
Andrej Petrovic and Ivana Petrovic: “The paradigm of inner purity and Egyptian priests in Eastern Mediterranean”
Our paper investigates issues of negotiation with and articulation of Egyptian religious concepts in the context of Rhodian cults of Imperial period, and focuses on the requests for inner purity of worshipper. In this sense, our paper addresses the question of transmission of religious knowledge and looks at agency of religious experts in formation and reformation of ritual actions and theological constructions. In terms of the key themes of the conference, our paper has the thematic focus on the religious reformation and the body, and we will engage with epigraphic documents concerning cult actions on Rhodes and cities of western coast of Asia minor in the period between 1st and 3rd c AD (esp. LSAM 6, 84, LSS 91 and 108, I.Lindos II 484)
Francoise Van Haeperen: “Puzzling representations of the Mater Magna’s cult specialists in the Roman Empire”
The professionals of the Mater Magna’s cult in the Roman Empire were various: priests, priestesses, galli (eunuch devotees of the goddess), archigalli, members of associations linked with the cult processions, music players etc. Recent researches on their juridical and social status, on their functions and on the complementarity of their duties on the one hand, on the literary constructions of the galli on the other, allow us to consider from a new perspective the iconographical representations of these religious professionals. How do these match or differ from the image that arises from literary and epigraphic texts? Do these representations necessarily depict galli or archigalli, as it is generally admitted? How can we interpret their garments and paraphernalia? How are these representations markers of the Romanness or otherness of these religious specialists and their cult?
III. Religious Innovation and Representation
Joan Breton Connelly: “Priestesses on the Athenian Acropolis: Genealogy, Authority, and Memory”
The hereditary priesthood of Athena Polias was passed down through the Eteoboutadai clan as a carefully guarded privilege for some 800 years. This paper explores Athenian awareness of the mythological origins of this priesthood, as bestowed by Athena herself on Queen Praxithea, wife of King Erechtheus in the epic past. It also examines local awareness of the long succession of historical women who held the post, above all, Lysimache Drakontidou, the inspiration for Aristophanes’ famous character Lysistrata. The paper concludes with a look at the priestess Paulleina, daughter of Kapito, who had her name displayed in bronze letters on the east architrave of the Parthenon during the reign of Nero. Mythological origins, genealogical networks, and collective memory played powerful roles in forging and sustaining the authority invested in the women who held this most important of Athenian sacred offices.
Paraskevi Martzavou: ‘Making new stories: priestly agents in Anaphe and Andros of the Hellenistic and Roman periods’
In this paper, I will investigate the actions of some individuals and of priestly agents in the island poleis of Anaphe and Andros during the Hellenistic and Roman periods, through their interaction with various types of authorities, in their attempt to introduce religious innovations successful enough to convince the communities and audiences which would benefit from these interventions. I will pay special attention to the type of authorities involved in religious transformations in these particular geographical, historical and socio-political settings. First, I will examine the processes of change, involving religious space, divine personae, objects, materials and humans. I will then focus on the motivations behind the agency of the humans and the relationship between motivations, goals and results. Special attention will be given to the material that the individual priestly agents used to realize their objectives and to the type of evidence that the actors used in order to communicate information and construct authority. I will look for possible patterns and helpful concepts relevant to the use of materiality by individual priestly agents in order to construct the religious space within a new historical and conceptual configuration. Techniques of religious innovation promoted by priestly agents and strategies of successful reception of religious changes by various audiences will be discussed.
Angela Standhartinger: ‘Best practice. Religious reformation in Philo’s representation of the Therapeutae and Therapeutrides’
In de vitae contemplativa (Contempl.), the Jewish philosopher Philo of Alexandra portrays a group of men and women living an ascetic life of study, fasting and religious celebration on the shores of Lake Mareotis outside of the city of Alexandria, in a manner strikingly to that of a group of Egyptian priests described by Chaeremon, Stoic contemporary of Philo. Philo’s description is obviously idealized and influenced by his own views; however, only few scholars doubt that the group existed. In his encomium, Philo praises the Therapeutae and Therapeutrides for their philosophical achievements, their modest ascetic and priestly practice and above all for their ecstatic religious experiences. He presents this Jewish group as in every respect epitomizing the highest achievements of ancient culture, philosophy and religion. The author never tires of contrasting the noble practices of these ascetics to examples of false piety, decadent feasting and misguided religious and philosophical ideas; indeed, he represents this Jewish group as the ultimate embodiment of true religion. This paper asks whether the aim of Philo’s encomium was to reform Judaism alone or religion in itself.
Annette Weissenrieder: “A Roadmap to the Heavens: (High) priestly vestments and the Temple in Josephus
The ancient Jewish historian Flavius Josephus served as a priest of the Herodian temple of Jerusalem. In his treatises Josephus provides us with insides of the architecture of the First and Second Temple and priestly vestments. In this paper I intend to present Josephus’s understanding of the priesthood by dealing with the architecture of the First and Second Temple and the symbolism of the high priestly vestments which he interprets symbolically. Not only communicate the priestly and high priestly vestments the Jewish cult of purity, and reflect the order of the cosmos, but also communicate the vestments a political message to the Romans. Methodologically, I aim to show that Josephus relies heavily on the ambivalent status of images and orients his pictorial description on the basis of visual codes in antiquity especially the ancient concept of ekphrasis: “a descriptive speech which brings the thing shown vividly before the eyes.”
Rubina Raja: “‘You can leave your hat on’. The palmyrene priestly modius”
Representations of priests in Palmyra are most often encountered in the funerary sphere, namely in the famous portrait busts, which stem from the numerous graves scattered around the city’s centre. A few representations are also found in the public sphere, e.g. reliefs showing religious activities such as sacrificial acts. Furthermore a few representations of palmyrene priests are found outside Palmyra in close-by DuraEuropos. On all representations of palmyrene priests the priestly insignia, the socalled modius hat, is depicted. This insignia, a round hat with a flat top, differs from other priestly hats from the region, which are high cylindrical hats. In this way palmyrene priests distinguish themselves within the regional context through their dress code. However, the famous fresco depicting the palmyrene priest Conon from The temple of the Palmyrene gods in Dura-Europos shows Conon with a cylindrical hat. This depiction indicates that at least outside Palmyra palmyrene priests could wear garments which did not adhere to the local tradition but to a broader regional tradition. On the other hand two small dedicatory reliefs from Dura-Europos depicting a palmyrene priest shows him in traditional palmyrene priestly garments including the modius, showing clearly that dress code was a choice. This paper will consider the representations of the palmyrene priestly modius in- and outside Palymra and discuss the meaning this object may hold particularly within the topic of religious innovation and representation.
Michael D. Swartz: “Rhetorical Indications of the Poet’s Craft in Ancient Synagogue Poetry”
From the first to sixth centuries CE, the liturgical poetry of the synagogue in Palestine evolved from a set of prosodic forms used by lay prayer leaders to a highly developed literary corpus known as piyyut, composed by professional poets. These composers produced hundreds of compositions based on the weekly lectionary reading, employing recondite vocabulary and allusions, complex prosodic structures, and often signed their names in acrostics. They also formed a religious class independent of the rabbinic movement and may have represented the interests of a priestly sector of Jewish society after the destruction of the Temple. This paper will discuss indications of how synagogue poets saw themselves as masters of religious expertise representing a congregation, focusing on the rhetoric of early piyyut and attestations to its use in the early synagogue. It will draw on recent research on scribal and authorial practices, such as and the markings of guild organization and behavior to examine such features of this literature as ideal figures and chains of tradition, and deictic forms in poetry that point to the professional role of the liturgical functionary.
IV. Religious Innovation Gone Wrong
Valentino Gasparini: “Sex And The Duty. Chastity, Betrayals, Power Struggles And Other Intrigues Among Anubis’ Priests At The Dawn Of The Roman Empire”
In Greek novels, such as Achilles Tatius’ Adventures of Leucippe and Clitophon and the Ephesian Tale of Anthia and Habrocomes by Xenophon of Ephesus, the worshippers of the Isiac deities are widely represented as paragons of virtue. The complaints of Augustan elegiac poets at being forced to spend nights alone, far from their pious muses (Ovid, A., III 9, 33-34; Prop., II 33, 1-6 and IV 5, 33-34; Tib. I 3, 23-32), are consistent with this image.
“Adulterous Anubis” (Tertullian, Apol. XV 1), however, stands in stark contrast to this topos, since in the early Principate priests of Anubis were alleged to be implicated in several episodes of unquestionable immorality. The best known of these is the scandal involving the Roman eques Decius Mundus in c. 19 CE, described by Josephus (Ant. Jud. XVIII 65-80). With the complicity of the priests, Mundus gained sexual access to the pious Isiac Paulina by pretending to be Anubis in person. Most scholars have dismissed this story as mere invention, but a recent article by David Klotz (Yale) in the Recueil d’études dédiées à Jean-Claude Grenier (Montpellier 2012) has challenged this view by adducing an authentic cultic background for the account. According to Klotz, basing himself on a wall-painting found in the ‘Tomb of 1897’ at Akhmim, priests wearing an Anubis mask had sexual relations with women inside the temple: “By identifying the progenitor [sic] with Anubis, an otherwise taboo extramarital coupling could have been elevated to a morally acceptable religious experience”.
Moreover, Anubophoroi, occasionally attested in the literary and epigraphic sources and the archaeological evidence, were involved in various other affairs, from the escape of Marcus Volusius in 43 BCE (Val. Max., VII 3, 8; Appian., B.C. IV 47) to Commodus’ nasty pranks, who himself cum Anubim portaret, capita Isiacorum graviter obtundebat ore simulacri (S.H.A., Vita Commodi IX 6).
My discussion of all this (and other) material will shed some light on the real consistency of Isiac practices of asceticism and moral virtue, on the specific reasons behind the attacks against their alleged corruption, and on their role within the frame of historical processes of religious reformation.
Federico Santangelo: “Priestly expertise in the early Principate”
It is quite uncontroversial to argue that one of the key features of the Augustan settlement, and more generally of the Principate, was the firm control of the princeps over public religion. A strong involvement of the emperor in the main priestly colleges and their functioning was a crucial feature of that solution. Yet, envisaging a strong imperial control does not entail accepting an undifferentiated picture in which priests and priesthoods played a merely vestigial role. This paper sets out to consider a series of related problems: what place - if any - did the expertise that priests deployed in the performance of their duties - whether as individuals or as members of priestly colleges - have in the early Principate? How did emperors engage with it? What impact did it have on the workings of the Senate? How can it contribute to our understanding of the interplay between politics and religion at a time of profound historical change?
Nicola Denzey Lewis: ‘“Lived Religion Among Second-Century Gnostic Hieratic Specialists”
Since the discovery of the Nag Hammadi corpus in 1945, the study of the phenomenon problematically termed “Gnosticism” has moved from attention to individual Gnostic teachers, thinkers, and provocateurs to textual studies. Yet a rising interest in reconstructing “lived religion” and new interpretive lenses for considering individuals in antiquity as potent social actors and cultural informants invites, even begs, us to return to the social landscape of second-century Gnosticism. This paper returns to predominantly heresiological sources – primarily the writings of Irenaeus, Hippolytus, and Epiphanius – to interrogate the charges of aberrant religio-sexual practices, gender troubles, and ritual improprieties that dogged at least three “Gnostics”: Marcus the Magician, Marcellina, and Theodotus. How did these individuals “form and reform ritual actions and theological constructions,” as the conference CFP queries? Can attention to “lived religion” help us to understand differently the heresiological charges against these individuals and their innovative crafting of new Christianities?
If heresiological claims about these Gnostic entrepreneurs are true, then they all pushed the limits of licit Christian behaviors. Ritual innovators all, Theodotus and Marcus explored the interface between baptism, death, and exorcism. Marcus employed women hierophants in his Eucharistic convenings that drew on sleight-ofhand to draw in their audience. Marcellina – one of the few named women “heretics” in the literature – was among a group of Christians who tattooed their bodies to mark their religious adherence; a practitioner of magic and dream-oracles, she revered images of Christ that she set up among statues of household gods and philosophers. Whether or not the heresiologists were accurate or truthful in their sketches of these Gnostic innovators remains a matter of debate; nevertheless, the second century found nascent Christianity at perhaps its most audaciously experimental, and historically at its closest point to Roman, Greek, and Egyptian hieratic behaviours. Without established limits to confine them, one might argue that all these figures operated “beyond duty,” creating moments of religious meaning in the intersections of life, sex, and death.
Jan N. Bremmer: “Lucian on Peregrinus and Alexander of Abunoteichos: a skeptical view of religious entrepreneurs”
Around AD 180, the social satirist Lucian published two treatises in which he took a skeptical and scathing look at the careers of two men, Peregrinus and Alexander of Abunoteichos, whom we would now call religious entrepreneurs, although in the case of Peregrinus only to a certain degree. The first managed for a while to profit from the Christians he had joined, whereas the second instituted a Mystery cult in his hometown Abunoteichos. When one looks at the current literature about these two figures, it is impossible to escape the impression that Lucian’s satiric picture of them is largely followed by modern scholars. Yet to do so prevents us from placing these men in their times and looking at them in order to see what the possibilities were of enterprising individuals to found their own cult (Alexander) or to exploit the possibilities of a certain cult/religion (Peregrinus). At the same time, his account enables us to see what Lucian thought to be remarkable in the activities of these men. By paying attention to the details he selects, we can gain a better insight into what he considered to be the norm for religious behavior. Thus a closer study of these two entrepreneurs will help us to see the possibilities for religious initiatives in the second half of the second century AD.