Seminar in the Religions of Late Antiquity
Dr. John C. Reeves
Office hours: T 5:00-6:00; R 2:30-3:30; or by appointment
‘Current and seminal issues related to the academic study of one or more of the religions practiced in the Roman and/or Sasanian empires during late antiquity.’ The seminar this semester will focus on the resources available and the primary issues involved in the study of the nativist and scriptural religions of Syria-Palestine, Arabia, Mesopotamia, and Iran. Attention will be given in varying degrees to so-called ‘paganism,’ Judaism, Syriac-language Christianity, Manichaeism, Mandaeism, Zoroastrianism, and nascent Islam. Special emphasis will be placed on certain critical categories such as ethnic and religious identity, imperial patronage, literacy and book culture, notions of prophetic authority, ‘syncretism,’ and a posited koine of magical hardware and themes.
G. W. Bowersock, Peter Brown, and Oleg Grabar, eds., Late Antiquity: A Guide to the Postclassical World (Cambridge, Mass. & London: Harvard University Press, 1999).
Mary Boyce, ed. & trans., Textual Sources for the Study of Zoroastrianism (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1984).
Iain Gardner and Samuel N. C. Lieu, Manichaean Texts from the Roman Empire (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004).
Edmondo Lupieri, The Mandaeans: The Last Gnostics (trans. Charles Hindley; Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2002).
Some primary sources (Hebrew, Aramaic, Greek, Latin, Syriac, Arabic, and Middle Iranian) in English translation may be assigned and/or distributed by the instructor.
Some additional secondary essays and articles may be distributed or assigned by the instructor.
a. Research project. One (1) formal research project will be presented in oral and written form (at least 20 double-spaced pages, exclusive of notes and list of sources) that focuses upon a particular topic relevant to the study of one or more Near Eastern religions during late antiquity. In consultation with the instructor, the student should select a topic of individual interest that permits such an extended exposition, analysis, and/or evaluation. The topic for one’s project should be selected no later than the October 21 class meeting. The project will be presented orally (approximately 15-20 minutes) at the final class meeting (December 9); the formal written version of the papers are due by 12:00 PM one week later (December 16). The research project accounts for 50% of the course grade.
b. Seminar papers & presentations. Excepting our first and final meetings, students will bear some responsibility for leading our discussion during a portion of each class meeting. Preparation for these discussions is based upon, but not necessarily limited to, all the readings assigned for that class meeting from the primary and/or secondary resources found in LA, Boyce, Gardner-Lieu, Lupieri, other assigned texts, and materials uncovered during the course of individual research. Assignments for brief presentation will be made weekly. Seminar papers (due weekly beginning September 2) will concisely summarize and critique the major points of one of our required secondary readings for that week. Maximum length of the seminar paper will be two (2) pages.
c. Individual involvement. Almost perfect attendance (see below) is an essential requirement for this course. Each class meeting builds upon the knowledge gained and queried during the previous meetings. Moreover, in-class discussion, close reading, and detailed analysis by both the instructor and class members comprise the bulk of every class meeting. Preparation for every class usually involves the completion of a series of required readings and/or written assignment(s), and individual students are often asked to initiate our collective examination and discussion of the weekly topics. Students are expected to contribute in an informed manner to the public analysis and discussion of any assigned topic. The instructor’s collective assessment of one’s attendance, weekly class preparation, seminar papers, and oral presentations will constitute 50% of the final course grade.
d. Zakhor (Remember!): Mastery of the assigned readings, the timely completion of any written assignments, and diligent class attendance are necessary prerequisites for the successful completion of this course. Each student is responsible for all lectures, class discussions, hand-outs, assignments, and announcements, whether or not he/she is present when they occur.
a. The grading scale used in this course is as follows:
- 91-95+ A = demonstrable mastery of material; can creatively synthesize
- 81-90 B = some demonstrable proficiency in control of material & analysis
- 71-80 C = satisfactory performance of assignments; little or no analysis
- 61-70 D = inadequate and/or faulty understanding of material
- 0-60 F = unacceptable work
b. One of the requirements of this course is to complete the work of the course on time. Sometimes there are legitimate reasons for late work—an illness or other emergency. ‘Emergency,’ however, does not include your social involvements, travel plans, job schedule, disk and/or printer failures, the state of your love life, your obligations to other courses, or general malaise over the state of the world. The world has been in a mess as long as anyone can remember, and most of the world’s work is done by people whose lives are a mass of futility and discontent. If you haven’t learned yet, you had better learn now to work under the conditions of the world as it is. Therefore:
1) All missing work is averaged as a 0 in the computation of the course grade.
2) All written work falls due on the dates scheduled in the syllabus, or on the date announced by the instructor in class (usually the next class meeting). ‘Late’ work will not be accepted from students who were privy to its oral evaluation and discussion (i.e., you were present while we ‘went over it’ but you neglected to do it beforehand). In the event of one’s absence, ‘late’ submissions bear the following penalties: one day late/one letter grade; two days late/two letter grades; three or more days late/U. Please note: these ‘days’ are calendar days, not class meeting days. For accounting purposes, letter grades bear the following values: A=95; A-=92; B+=88; B=85; B-=82; C+=78; C=75; C-=72; U=35. Seminar papers are assessed according to the following formulae: √+ = A; √ = B; √- = U. An untyped seminar paper or final project automatically receives the grade U, as do those typed submissions which violate the required parameters or which the instructor deems physically unacceptable and/or grammatically incomprehensible.
3) Since your diligent physical participation is critical for the success of this course, attendance at class meetings will be monitored by the instructor. One absence is regrettable; two absences are the limit of tolerability. Three (3) or more absences will result in an automatic U for the course. Please note that the instructor does not distinguish ‘excused’ from ‘unexcused’ absences. Unsanctioned late arrivals and early departures will be tallied as absences.
4) Policy regarding Audits: the instructor expects auditors (whether formally enrolled as such or not) to meet the same attendance, preparation, and oral participation standards as those students who are taking the course for credit. The instructor does not expect auditors to prepare and submit any written assignments.
c. Assistance and solicitation of criticism is your right as a member of the class. It is not a privilege to be granted or withheld. Do not hesitate to request it nor wait too late in the course for it to be of help.
Rough Course Outline
Bowersock, Brown, and Grabar, “Introduction,” LA, vii-xiii.
Bryan Ward-Perkins, “All for the Best in the Best of All Possible Worlds?” in his The Fall of Rome and the End of Civilization (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005), 169-83.
Averil Cameron, “Remaking the Past,” LA, 1-20.
Ardā Virāz Nāmag (apud Boyce), 84-89.
Apocalypse of Abraham chaps. 9-32
Béatrice Caseau, “Sacred Landscapes,” LA, 21-59.
Guy Stroumsa, “Religious Contacts in Byzantine Palestine,” Numen 36 (1989): 16-42.
Cologne Mani Codex (apud Lieu & Gardner), 47-73.
Acts of Thomas chaps. 1-38; 42-50; 108-113.
Garth Fowden, “Religious Communities,” LA, 82-106.
Han J. D. Drijvers, “Jews and Christians in Edessa,” Journal of Jewish Studies 36 (1985): 88-102.
G. W. Bowersock, “Polytheism and Monotheism in Arabia and the Three Palestines,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 51 (1997): 1-10.
Doctrina Addai (selections)
Continued discussion of CMC and Acts Thom.
Patrick J. Geary, “Barbarians and Ethnicity,” LA, 107-29.
Brent D. Shaw, “War and Violence,” LA, 130-69.
David Frankfurter, “Stylites and Phallobates: Pillar Religions in Late Antique Syria,” Vigiliae Christianae 44 (1990): 168-98.
Shaul Shaked, “Popular Religion in Sasanian Babylonia,” Jerusalem Studies in Arabic and Islam 21 (1997): 103-17.
Isaiah Gafni, “Babylonian Rabbinic Culture,” in Cultures of the Jews: A New History (ed. David Biale; New York: Schocken Books, 2002), 223-65.
Examples of magical bowls from Nippur, etc.
Select demonological texts
NO CLASS (Rosh Hashanah)
Christopher Kelly, “Empire Building,” LA, 170-95.
Richard Lim, “Christian Triumph and Controversy,” LA, 196-218.
Peter Brown, “The Saint as Exemplar in Late Antiquity,” Representations 1 (1983): 1-25.
David Frankfurter, “Syncretism and the Holy Man in Late Antique Egypt,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 11 (2003): 339-85.
Fergus Millar, “Empire, Community and Culture in the Roman Near East: Greeks, Syrians, Jews and Arabs,” Journal of Jewish Studies 38 (1987): 143-64.
Acta Archelai (selections)
Kirdīr inscription (apud Boyce, 112-13)
NO CLASS (Fall recess)
Hugh Kennedy, “Islam,” LA, 219-37.
Thomas Sizgorich, “Narrative and Community in Islamic Late Antiquity,” Past and Present 185 (2004): 9-42.
Patricia Crone and Michael Cook, Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977), 3-38.
‘Constitution of Medina’
Nistarot R. Shimon b. Yohai
Henry Maguire, “The Good Life,” LA, 238-57.
Yizhar Hirschfeld, “Habitat,” LA, 258-72.
Joel T. Walker, “The Limits of Late Antiquity: Philosophy Between Rome and Iran,” The Ancient World 33 (2002): 45-69.
Garth Fowden, “The Pagan Holy Man in Late Antique Society,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 102 (1982): 33-59.
Hermetic Asclepius apocalypse
Zoroastrianism and Persianate movements
Gardner & Lieu (entire).
Islamicate Mani sources
Mandaeism and other ‘gnostic’ currents
NO CLASS (SBL, Boston)
Nativist ‘survivals’ and ‘revivals’
Polymnia Athanassiadi, “Persecution and Response in Late Paganism: The Case of Damascius,” Journal of Hellenic Studies 113 (1993): 1-29.
Ted Kaizer, “Some Remarks About the Religious Life of Hatra,” Topoi (Orient-Occident) 10 (2000): 229-52.
Bīrūnī on the Sabians of Harrān (handout)
Research projects and concluding business
Supplemental Bibliography for RELS 6615
Some Historical and Cultural Surveys
G. W. Bowersock, Roman Arabia (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1983).
Peter Brown, The Making of Late Antiquity (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1978).
______, The World of Late Antiquity: AD 150-750 (London: Thames and Hudson, 1971).
Kevin Butcher, Roman Syria and the Near East (Los Angeles: The J. Paul Getty Museum, 2003).
Averil Cameron, The Later Roman Empire: AD 284-430 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993).
______, The Mediterranean World in Late Antiquity AD 395-600 (London & New York: Routledge, 1993).
Clive Foss, “Syria in Transition, AD 550-750: An Archaeological Approach,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 51 (1997): 189-269.
Tomas Hägg, “SO Debate: The World of Late Antiquity Revisited,” Symbolae Osloenses 72 (1997): 5-90.
Robert G. Hoyland, Arabia and the Arabs: From the Bronze Age to the Coming of Islam (London & New York: Routledge, 2001).
J. H. W. G. Liebeschuetz, Decline and Fall of the Roman City (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2001).
Fergus Millar, The Roman Near East: 31 BC-AD 337 (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993).
Maurice Sartre, The Middle East Under Rome (trans. Catherine Porter and Elizabeth Rawlings; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2005).
Hagith Sivan, Palestine in Late Antiquity (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008).
Sasanian History and Literature
Averil Cameron, “Agathias on the Sassanians,” Dumbarton Oaks Papers 23-24 (1969-70): 65-183.
C. G. Cereti, “Primary Sources for the History of Inner and Outer Iran in the Sasanian Period,” Archivum Eurasiae Medii Aevi 9 (1997): 17-71.
Beate Dignas and Engelbert Winter, Rome and Persia in Late Antiquity: Neighbours and Rivals (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).
Clive Foss, “The Persians in the Roman Near East,” Journal of the Royal Asiatic Society 13 (2003): 149-70.
R. N. Frye, “The Political History of Iran under the Sasanians,” in The Cambridge History of Iran, Volume 3(1): The Seleucid, Parthian and Sasanian Periods (ed. Ehsan Yarshater; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), 116-80.
M[ichael G]. Morony, “Sāsānids,” Encyclopaedia of Islam (2d ed.; 11 vols.; Leiden: Brill, 1954-2002), 9:70-83.
Ze’ev Rubin, “The Sasanid Monarchy,” in The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume XIV: Late Antiquity: Empire and Successors, A.D. 425-600 (ed. Averil Cameron, Bryan Ward-Perkins, and Michael Whitby; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 638-661.
Josef Wiesehöfer, “Iran from Ardashir I to Yazdgird III: The Reign of the Sasanians,” in Ancient Persia from 550 BC to 650 AD (trans. Azizeh Azodi; London and New York: I. B. Tauris Publishers, 2001), 151-221; 282-300; 309.
Religions in Contact
G. W. Bowersock, Hellenism in Late Antiquity (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1990).
______, Mosaics as History: The Near East from Late Antiquity to Islam (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2006).
Sebastian Brock, “Jewish Traditions in Syriac Sources,” Journal of Jewish Studies (= JJS) 30 (1979): 212-32.
Lucinda Dirven, The Palmyrenes of Dura-Europos: A Study of Religious Interaction in Roman Syria (Leiden: Brill, 1999).
Jaś Elsner, “Archaeologies and Agendas: Reflections on Late Ancient Jewish Art and Early Christian Art,” Journal of Roman Studies (= JRS) 93 (2003): 114-28.
Garth Fowden, Empire to Commonwealth: Consequences of Monotheism in Late Antiquity (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1993).
______, Qusayr ‘Amra: Art and the Umayyad Elite in Late Antique Syria (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004).
Ramsay MacMullen, Christianity and Paganism in the Fourth to Eighth Centuries (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1997).
Fergus Millar, Rome, the Greek World, and the East, Volume 3: The Greek World, the Jews, and the East (ed. Hannah M. Cotton and Guy M. Rogers; Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2006).
Jacob Neusner, “Babylonian Jewry and Shapur II’s Persecution of Christianity from 339 to 379 A.D.,” Hebrew Union College Annual 43 (1972): 77-102.
Shaul Shaked, “First Man, First King: Notes on Semitic-Iranian Syncretism and Iranian Mythological Transformations,” in Gilgul: Essays on Transformation, Revolution and Permanence in the History of Religions (ed. S. Shaked, D. Shulman, and G. G. Stroumsa; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1987), 238-56.
Pierre Chuvin, A Chronicle of the Last Pagans (trans. B. A. Archer; Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1990).
Stephanie Dalley, ed., The Legacy of Mesopotamia (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998).
H. J. W. Drijvers, Cults and Beliefs at Edessa (Leiden: Brill, 1980).
______, The Religion of Palmyra (Leiden: Brill, 1976).
Garth Fowden, The Egyptian Hermes: A Historical Approach to the Late Pagan Mind (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).
John F. Healey, The Religion of the Nabataeans: A Conspectus (Leiden: Brill, 2001).
Ted Kaizer, The Religious Life of Palmyra: A Study of the Social Patterns of Worship in the Roman Period (Stuttgart: Franz Steiner, 2002).
Ramsay MacMullen, Paganism in the Roman Empire (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1981).
Michael G. Morony, “Pagans and Gnostics,” in his Iraq After the Muslim Conquest (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1984), 384-430; 632-40.
J. B. Rives, “The Decree of Decius and the Religion of Empire,” JRS 89 (1999): 135-54.
Javier Teixidor, The Pagan God: Popular Religion in the Greco-Roman Near East (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1977).
______, The Pantheon of Palmyra (Leiden: Brill, 1979).
Yaakov Elman, “Acculturation to Elite Persian Norms and Modes of Thought in the Babylonian Jewish Community of Late Antiquity,” in Neti‘ot le-David: Jubilee Volume for David Weiss Halivni (Jerusalem: Orḥot, 2004), 21-42.
______, “Middle Persian Culture and Babylonian Sages: Accommodation and Resistance in the Shaping of Rabbinic Legal Tradition,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Talmud and Rabbinic Literature (ed. Charlotte Elisheva Fonrobert and Martin S. Jaffee; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 165-97.
Isaiah Gafni, “The Political, Social, and Economic History of Babylonian Jewry, 224-638 CE,” in The Cambridge History of Judaism, Volume IV: The Late Roman-Rabbinic Period (ed. Steven T. Katz; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 792-820.
David M. Goodblatt, “Local Traditions in the Babylonian Talmud,” Hebrew Union College Annual 48 (1977): 187-217.
Yuval Harari, “The Sages and the Occult,” in The Literature of the Sages, Second Part (CRINT II.3b; ed. Shmuel Safrai, et al.; Assen/Minneapolis: Royal Van Gorcum/Fortress, 2006), 521-64.
Richard Kalmin, Jewish Babylonia between Persia and Roman Palestine (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006).
Fergus Millar, “The Jews of the Graeco-Roman Diaspora between Paganism and Christianity, AD 312-438,” in The Jews Among Pagans and Christians in the Roman Empire (ed. Judith Lieu, John North, and Tessa Rajak; London & New York: Routledge, 1992), 97-123.
Jacob Neusner, A History of the Jews in Babylonia (5 vols.; Leiden: Brill, 1965-70).
Michael D. Swartz, “Jewish Magic in Late Antiquity,” in The Cambridge History of Judaism, Volume IV: The Late Roman-Rabbinic Period (ed. Steven T. Katz; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 699-720.
Eli Yassif, “Jewish Folk Literature in Late Antiquity,” in The Cambridge History of Judaism, Volume IV: The Late Roman-Rabbinic Period (ed. Steven T. Katz; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 721-48.
Peter Brown, Authority and the Sacred: Aspects of the Christianisation of the Roman World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995).
______, “Bishops, City, and Desert: East Rome,” in his The Rise of Western Christendom: Triumph and Adversity, A.D. 200-1000 (2d ed.; Oxford: Blackwell, 2003), 166-89.
______, “Christianity in Asia and the Rise of Islam,” in his The Rise of Western Christendom, 267-94.
______, “Holy Men,” in The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume XIV: Late Antiquity: Empire and Successors, A.D. 425-600 (ed. Averil Cameron, Bryan Ward-Perkins, and Michael Whitby; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 781-810.
______, Power and Persuasion in Late Antiquity: Towards a Christian Empire (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 1992).
Averil Cameron, Christianity and the Rhetoric of Empire: The Development of Christian Discourse (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1991).
Han Drijvers, “Syrian Christianity and Judaism,” in The Jews Among Pagans and Christians in the Roman Empire (ed. Judith Lieu, John North, and Tessa Rajak; London & New York: Routledge, 1992), 124-46.
Judith Herrin, The Formation of Christendom (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1987).
Ramsay MacMullen, Christianizing the Roman Empire (A.D. 100-400) (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1984).
Lucas van Rompay, “Society and Community in the Christian East,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian (ed. Michael Maas; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 239-66.
Mary Boyce, A History of Zoroastrianism (3 vols.; Leiden: Brill, 1975-89).
______, “On the Antiquity of Zoroastrian Apocalyptic,” Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies 47 (1984): 57-75.
______, Zoroastrians: Their Religious Beliefs and Practices (London and New York: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1987), 101-44.
Jacques Duchesne-Guillemin, Religion of Ancient Iran (trans. K. M. Jamaspasa; Bombay: Tata Press, 1973).
Albert de Jong, Traditions of the Magi: Zoroastrianism in Greek and Latin Literature (Leiden: Brill, 1997).
M[ichael G]. Morony, “Madjūs,” Encyclopaedia of Islam (2d ed.; 11 vols.; Leiden: Brill, 1954-2002), 5:1110-18.
R. C. Zaehner, The Teachings of the Magi: A Compendium of Zoroastrian Beliefs (repr. New York: Oxford University Press, 1976).
Jason David BeDuhn, The Manichaean Body: In Discipline and Ritual (Baltimore & London: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2000).
Peter Brown, “The Diffusion of Manichaeism in the Roman Empire,” JRS 59 (1969): 92-103.
Hans-Joachim Klimkeit, Gnosis on the Silk Road: Gnostic Texts from Central Asia (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1993).
Samuel N. C. Lieu, Manichaeism in Mesopotamia and the Roman East (Leiden: Brill, 1994).
______, Manichaeism in the Later Roman Empire and Medieval China (2d ed.; Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr, 1992).
Geo Widengren, Mani and Manichaeism (trans. Charles Kessler; New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1965).
Mandaeism and other ‘gnostic’ currents
Jorunn Jacobsen Buckley, The Mandaeans: Ancient Texts and Modern People (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2002).
E. S. Drower, The Mandaeans of Iraq and Iran: Their Cult, Customs, Magic, Legends, and Folklore (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1937).
T[oufic]. Fahd, “Sābi’a,” Encyclopaedia of Islam (2d ed.; 11 vols.; Leiden: Brill, 1954-2002), 8:675-78.
C. H. Kraeling, “The Origin and Antiquity of the Mandaeans,” Journal of the American Oriental Society 49 (1929): 195-218.
Peter Brown, “The Changing of the Kingdoms: Christians under Islam,” in his The Rise of Western Christendom, 295-320.
Lawrence I. Conrad, “The Arabs,” in The Cambridge Ancient History, Volume XIV: Late Antiquity: Empire and Successors, A.D. 425-600 (ed. Averil Cameron, Bryan Ward-Perkins, and Michael Whitby; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000), 678-700.
Patricia Crone and Michael Cook, Hagarism: The Making of the Islamic World (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977).
Fred M. Donner, “The Background to Islam,” in The Cambridge Companion to the Age of Justinian (ed. Michael Maas; Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2005), 510-33.
______, “From Believers to Muslims: Confessional Self-Identity in the Early Islamic Community,” al-Abhāth 50-51 (2003): 9-53.
Robert G. Hoyland, Seeing Islam as Others Saw It: A Survey and Evaluation of Christian, Jewish and Zoroastrian Writings on Early Islam (Princeton, N.J.: The Darwin Press, 1997).
Michael E. Pregill, “The Hebrew Bible and the Quran: The Problem of the Jewish ‘Influence’ on Islam,” Religion Compass 1 (2007): 1-17.