Which is Older Judaism or Paganism

The religious diversity of the Roman Empire went hand in hand with a variety of perspectives and manners. It is difficult for modern research to adequately describe these interactions. All too often, paganism and Christianity were juxtaposed and static identities were assumed without taking appropriate account of different regional conflict situations or examining what was named as Christian, Jewish or pagan in self-description or in external descriptions. That is why ancient historians and Protestant theologians asked at the conference “Jews, Christians, Gentiles? Religious Inclusion and Exclusion in Asia Minor to Decius ”under the direction of Stefan Alkier (Evangelical Theology) and Hartmut Leppin (Ancient History) according to regional and supra-regional forms, mechanisms and concepts of religious inclusion and exclusion in Asia Minor. A small group of specialists should be brought together and given ample time for discussions.

As STEFAN ALKIER (Frankfurt am Main) emphasized in his introduction, the aim was to counter the simple juxtaposition of paganism and Christianity with analyzes that highlight the complexity and dynamics of the facts and thereby enable knowledge to be gained. The central question is what role the supraregional identity markers such as “Roman Empire”, “Christianity”, “Judaism” etc. actually played in the formation of identities in everyday life or whether local conditions were not decisive here. The example of Asia Minor also clearly shows the diversity of Christianity since its inception. It contributed to the religious diversity of this region and was itself influenced by it.

The first section focused on questions of principle. TOBIAS NICKLAS (Regensburg) offered a very suitable starting point. In his lecture he criticized the concept of “Parting of the Ways”, as this presupposes stable religious groups and identities, which a differentiated analysis cannot assume. Nicklas used suitable examples and theses derived from them to show the dynamics and plurality of identities as well as the regional differences in coexistence, coexistence and opposition in conflict situations. According to this, “Parting of the Ways” can only ever be understood to mean part of reality, perhaps more appropriately to speak of several separations of several groups in several ways, without neglecting the points at which a temporarily common path can be mentioned. Nicklas used a three-dimensional image for this, namely that of a group dance in which certain groups or couples dance with each other at times, partner changes take place, but sometimes also danced past each other, be it on purpose or not. The modern historian can only observe excerpts, as if looking through a keyhole.

MANUEL VOGEL (Jena) dealt in his lecture on conceptual problems of the definition of Judaism, Christianity and paganism. The difficulty already lies in the fact that these designations were used in the sources not only for the purpose of delimiting the content, but often with polemical intent. Central to Vogel's remarks was the correspondence between Julian and Gregor, more precisely the word usage of dẽmos, Laos, éthnos, genos. Vogel asked if and where Christians as a religion without an ethnic component or at least as a genos understood, which in turn leads to the very fundamental question of the relationship between génos and religion in antiquity.

JAMES RIVES (Chapel Hill) rounded off the first section with his contribution "Ritual Practice, Social Power, and Religious Identity: The Case of Animal Sacrifice". Rives was referring to the Acts of the Apostles, which reports that Paul healed a lame man in Lystra, whereupon the population called him God and wanted to offer him sacrifices. He also referred to the martyrdom of Carpus, who argued during interrogation that one would become a daímon if one sacrificed the daímones. Fundamental to Rive's considerations is the focus of Christians on orthodoxy and the focus of followers of the traditional Roman religion on orthopraxis, which in turn is negotiable in Judaism. According to Rives, the victims themselves represent a connecting element between pagans and Jews. In Christianity, on the other hand, bishops, priests and perhaps also deacons may have used discussions about sacrificial rites to address orthodoxy, possibly to profile themselves, to form identities and to emphasize exclusivity.

The second section focused on epigraphic and archaeological evidence. GIAN FRANCO CHIAI (Berlin) presented in his lecture on "Christians and Christian identity (s) in the inscriptions of the imperial Phrygia" rich material, in which inclusiveist tendencies become very clear, such as formulations such as "God help ..." or the reference to potential grave robbers to have to give an account to God for what in one variatio by the command “By God, do no wrong” is exaggerated. Chiai emphasized that certain combinations of formulas are more likely to show the dedicant and recipient recognizable than Christian, for example when the comment is added to “God help ...” that one was created by God or a slave of the Lord, or when the inscription is decorated with crosses . Examples of Christian self-description also exist without the combination of formulas, for example when the Trinity is invoked or the phrase Christianoí Christianoĩs is engraved.

ULRICH HUTTNER's (Siegen) lecture followed on very well, as he looked at grave inscriptions in depth and further, which can be assigned to Christians, Jews and Gentiles. This is the case, for example, when it is threatened that the curses of Deuteronomy or the cursed sickle will overtake grave robbers. Also the Eumeneic formula (“He will give an account to God”) or the formulas lógon dósei tõ theõ and tón theón soi, mè adikéseis are marks of the grave inscriptions, which announce punishments of wrongdoers by (the) God and can be assigned to several religious groups. In conclusion, Huttner also briefly addressed the problems surrounding the crypto Christians.

A group of inscriptions, in which inclusion is particularly evident, dealt with CHRISTIAN MAREK's (Zurich) contribution to the theòs hypsistos inscriptions, some of which testify that certain Christians, who can be identified as such by decorative crosses, are related to the idea of ​​Hades and at the same time believed in the resurrection. In some inscriptions, which can probably be assigned to Helios, Christian, Jewish and non-Christian elements come together, such as the reference to creation by God, the idea of ​​God as Pantocrator and the threat of vengeance in a testimony. Marek pointed out that the Hypsistiani were seen as heretics in some places, but that it was unclear at all whether they formed their own religious community. Finally, he emphasized the permeability of the formulas, i.e. in the sense that certain Christian expressions were adopted by non-Christians and vice versa.

In his contribution, CARSTEN CLAUSSEN (Elstal) turned to a different type of source by asking about the identity of ancient Jewish communities in Asia Minor as reflected in legal texts. As the main source for this he used Josephus, who cited some decrees and the privileges contained therein, for example the exemption from military service in Ephesus or the concession of a meeting place in Sardis. From the affirmation of the privileges, Claußen concludes that there was also resistance to these at the level of action, but at the same time the Jewish community was able to organize itself and bring its concerns to the governor.

The epigraphic and archaeological section concluded with DOROTHEA ROHDE (Bielefeld) with her contribution to the religious landscape in Ephesus. She first emphasized the peculiarities of this port city, which was also the central point of contact for administration and the military in Asia Minor, which also had an impact on the religious diversity. The Artemis cult has always been of particular importance; Many other cults were added during the imperial era. Christians only became visible in the cityscape from the point at which they built churches and other buildings, i.e. in the third century, but then all the more formative. Rohde suspects that the Christian communities developed in the shadow of the Jewish community for a long time and are not within our grasp. The dividing lines between the groups seemed to have been permeable for a long time, to have enabled them to coexist.

In the third section, literary evidence was brought into focus. ALEXANDER WEIß (Leipzig) dealt with the Revelation of John, one of the central and at the same time most difficult texts in dealing with the religious landscape of Asia Minor. He devoted his investigation to the cities of the seven missives. In the form of an imagined “Heptapolite” he took a walk through the communities and looked for some true core in the complex symbolism. So he considered that in Ephesus the tree of life could be identified with the tree cult of Artemis. In Philadelphia, the description of the pillars of the temple, coupled with the warning not to go out, could be understood as a reference to the numerous earthquakes in the area. The eye ointment, which is supposed to heal the community in Laodicea, could refer to the renowned ophthalmologist school there.

ULRICH GOTTER (Constance) offered an interpretation of a well-known, but often misunderstood text about the coexistence and opposition of non-Christians and Christians, namely Pliny Letter X, 96 to Emperor Traian. He first highlighted a contradiction, which consists in the fact that Pliny emphasizes his ignorance at the beginning, but then acts very routinely in the course of the process, so must have known the usual procedure. Pliny proposed the alternative to Traian instead of the noun ipsum only to punish the crimes connected with it, with which, however, he had no success with Traian, as is clear from the reply. So the question arises as to how Christianity was able to spread so successfully despite the Traian legal basis. One reason for this could be that denunciations remained rare, because they would have acts of revenge up to stasis trigger, i.e. threaten public order, in which neither the governor nor a large part of the population had an interest.

JAN BREMMER (Groningen) asked about Jews, Gentiles and Christians in the testimony of the apocryphal Acts of the Apostles. He emphasized that the files deal with internal Christian discourses, not conflicts with non-Christians or Jews, or even addressed to them. In the Acts of John, for example, the cult of Artemis in Ephesus was not of particular importance (rather the cult of the emperor); only the Acts of Peter made negative comments about Jews. Rather, the texts were aimed at converts, including wealthy women, and testify to the diversity of Christianity itself. The focus is on questions of the Christian way of life: excessive lifestyle is condemned, and sometimes Roman authorities as well. The ascetic way of life and pastoral care come to the fore (without already embodying doctrines), which means that the texts also fit in with Middle Platonism and Neopythagorism.

After this series of lectures, in which diverse inclusiveist tendencies became visible, WALTER AMELING (Cologne) sets a different accent with his consideration. In his lecture on Smyrna as “the marketplace or battleground of religions” he concentrated on the martyrdom reports of Polycarp and Pionius. In Polycarp's martyrdom report, other Christian groups, for example the Montanists, are also tangible, but above all the differences between followers of the traditional Roman faith and Christians are clearly worked out, which is evident in the use of terms such as asébeia and atheótes become manifest. Coexistence between pagan and Christian groups is not considered at any point. Pionius' report embodies an internal Christian discourse. The opposition between Christians and Jews is particularly emphasized here. The actors are very sure of their respective identities, Christians would even have distanced themselves from applicable law if this appeared to them to be incompatible with their religious ideas.

HARTMUT LEPPIN (Frankfurt am Main) then tried to summarize the results. Deconstruction had shaped the use of terms such as Christians, Jews and Gentiles, but it remained unclear what could replace them. “Christ followers” ​​had found broad approval for the period of the 1st century, “Judeans” had also been suggested in order to make inner-Jewish differentiations visible. However, it cannot be assumed that there could be an absolutely correct terminology, since this presupposes an Archimedean point of the viewer who considers himself to be an external, objective viewer. Metaphors were used selectively, for example the image of a horse race, a group dance, a market square or battlefield of religious groups. Taken alone, however, these images could again not depict the complexity of the processes and structures. Rather, religious inclusion and exclusion are in a dialectical relationship, in the sense that inclusion can also provoke exclusion: inscriptions often testify to inclusivist tendencies in the population, which could have led to the emphasis on exclusion in the elites (e.g. Tertullian). Ultimately, that Christianity prevailed that pursued clear demarcation. One seems to end up in an aporia which nevertheless leads to the realization of how much is still possible in this respect.

The Frankfurt conference was characterized by a variety of methods and lively discussions; the proceeds will be published in an anthology.

Conference overview

Stefan Alkier: Introduction

Section I: Fundamental questions:

Tobias Nicklas: Parting of the Ways - Critique of a Concept

Manuel Vogel: Judaism, Christianity, Paganism - Conceptual Problems of Definitions

James Rives: Ritual Practice, Social Power, and Religious Identity: The Case of Animal Sacrifice

Section II: Epigraphy and Archeology

Gian Franco Chiai: Christians and Christian identity (s) in the inscriptions of the imperial Phrygia

Ulrich Huttner: Christian border crossers and their inscriptions

Christian Marek: Theos Hypsistos inscriptions

Carsten Claussen: The identity of ancient Jewish communities in Asia Minor as reflected in legal texts

Dorothea Rohde: The changing religious landscape of a port city: The example of Ephesus

Section III: Literary Sources

Alexander Weiß: The cities of the seven missives

Ulrich Gotter: How do you persecute Christians? Pliny, Traian and the face-to-face societies in the east of the empire

Jan Bremmer: Religious Inclusions and Exclusions in the Testimony of the Acts of the Apostles

Walter Ameling: Smyrna from Revelation to Pionius - marketplace or battleground of religions?

Hartmut Leppin: Summary