Ancient Jewish and Christian Religions in their Broader Religious Landscapes

Programme

If we were to imagine the Mediterranean basin in Antiquity, we would willingly agree with Keith Hopkins, and Plato much before him, in describing it as “a world full of gods”. This is true because of the more central role of religion in everyday matters, especially due to the absence of separation between “religious” and “secular”, which seems today, on the contrary, crucial. Moreover, hundreds of gods and thousands of divine names were visible, audible or, in one word, present everywhere. The landscape, arts, calendar, toponymy, and onomastic were also saturated by gods, by means of their effigies, their temples and goods or simply their names. Such a proliferation is equally due to the extreme mobility of specific gods who “travelled” throughout the known world. 

 

Many years passed since the time when ancient Judaism and Christianism were considered exceptions in such a context. This Research Unit aims, however, at fostering the understanding the religious aspects (rituals, literature, divine names and iconographies, cult places, etc.) of “biblical religions” – both Old and New Testament – as part of the religious landscape of the Mediterranean and in particular of the Levant.

 

Ancient societies are a fertile case-study for the historian of religions, in particular when they are diasporic and/or developed in areas – such as the Levant – characterised by a great deal of contact and interaction. They become, therefore, multicultural “laboratories” where religious aspects in the different cultures cross-pollinated. Along the five years of the Research Unit, many themes will be addressed such as: religion in cross-cultural contacts; mobility of gods and cults; interpraetatio and the question of translatability of divine names and religious texts; comparative study of conceptualisation of the divine; historiographical aspects in the study of ancient religions; the circulation of divine iconographies; the role of material culture in shaping and spreading religious aspects.

 

This Research Unit aims at reassessing our knowledge of ancient Jewish and Christian religions on a longue durée according to these two theoretical frames:

  • a) considering the divine – its names and images – as a “system of notions” in order to better understand religion as a form of bricolage, that is to say a process of creating a new religious landscape, by appropriating a diverse miscellany of existing elements;

  • b) fully acknowledging these religions as Levantine manifestations and reconsidering the whole Levant as an extremely fertile and plastic laboratory, rather than a passive actor facing the multiform and rich foreign religions.

Keywords:

Old and New Testament Studies, Biblical Theology, Ancient Near East Religion and Iconography, Mediterranean Studies, Semitic and Greco-Roman Epigraphy

Chairs

Corinne Bonnet

University of Toulouse

Christophe Nihan
University of Lausanne

Fabio Porzia
University of Toulouse


Member Area

Tolouse 2022 Call for Papers

Since this will be the first year of the Research Unit, we would like to organise an exploratory session focussing on the Old Testament in order to offer a state of art in the study of Israelite religion and identifying new trends of research. For this reason, we encourage scholars dealing with the Israelite religion and, in particular, with its Levantine / Near Eastern connections during the first millennium BCE, to present a paper proposal. Papers dealing with, but not exclusively, the following aspects are particularly welcome:

  • new trends in the study of ancient Israelite religion;
  • new methodological approaches to the study of ancient Semitic religions;
  • a reassessment of the opposition between the notions of “monotheism” and “polytheism”, “urban” and “extra-urban” or even “nomadic” religions, etc.;
  • comparative studies between the biblical god and other similar gods (especially in the Phoenician and Aramaic religions and in those of the Transjordan and Arabic peninsula);
  • studies on similar strategies of representing the divine in iconography or onomastic (divine or human) in different religious systems.