Tag Archives: Roman-era life

New Book on Jews in the Graeco-Roman Period

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Perusing the current Mohr Siebeck catalogue, I’ve just noticed that our own Dr. Margaret Williams has a new book out (she’s too modest to have mentioned it):  Jews in a Graeco-Roman Environment (Tuebingen:  Mohr Siebeck, 2013; ISBN 978-3-16-151901-7).

This is mainly a collection of essay-length studies previously published in a variety of journals and multi-author works, most of them based on epigraphical evidence and dealing with the Jewish Diaspora in the Graeco-Roman period.  The essays include discussions of the Jewish community in Rome (history, burial practices, organisation), other Jewish settlements in the Roman world (including Aphrodisias, Corycus and Venusia), Jewish naming practices (including use of alternate names, the formation of fesetal names, and the increasing preference in Late Antiquity for Hebrew names).

In a framing introductory essay, Dr. Williams engages the reception of these studies among scholars, and she notes any changes in the evidence arising from re-editing of inscriptions.

We’re pleased to have Dr. Williams as a member of CSCO, and I congratulate her on this new publication of a body of her scholarly work.

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“New Documents” Vol 10

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I’ve just received my copy of Volume 10 of the valuable series, New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity, eds. S. R. Llewelyn and J. R. Harrison (Eerdmans, 2012).  For those who don’t know the series, each volume reviews publications of texts and inscriptions from a preceding period of years.  This latest volume covers 1988-1992.

The original publications (typically journal articles) are cited, but the editors/contributors in fact make their own analysis and offer their own comments on the items addressed.  The work represented in these volumes is also invested toward the larger/long-term project of a massive database (with extensive annotations) on all ancient papyri from Egypt pertaining to early Christianity.

The latter project has been the dream of Prof. Edwin Judge, whose energy and vision early on guided the emergence of the Ancient History Documentary Research Centre in Macquarie University (Australia), and the “New Documents” series is based in that Centre (which now forms part of the Ancient Cultures Research Centre in Macquarie).

As with previous volumes in the series, this one covers a wide spectrum of genres and topics, citing recent publications of texts on philosophy, magic, “cult and oracle”, public life, household, “Judaica” and “Christianity,” some 29 component-articles in all, plus indexes of subjects, words (Greek, Latin, Hebrew, Aramaic), ancient authors & works cited, inscriptions, papyri, and texts cited from the Bible, Qumran and Rabbinic works.

For those of us who are not professional epigraphers or palaeographers, but who would like to harvest relevant information on new publications in these fields, this series is a valuable (even unique) tool.    Thanks to all involved!

Another “New Documents” Volume

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(Larry Hurtado):  The latest in the series, “New Documents Illustrating Early Christianity,” produced by the Ancient History Documentary Research Centre in Macquarie University (Sydney, Australia) has appeared, Volume 10, edited by S. R. Llewelyn and J. R. Harrison (published by Eerdmans).  Each volume in the series is a valuable collection of notices of publications on inscriptions, papyri and other artefacts that cast any light on early Christianity and/or its historical setting.  As well, there are typically valuable review-essays that gather up information, providing considered syntheses of matters.  Volume 10 includes sections on “Philosophy”, “Magic”, “Cult and Oracle”, “Public Life:  Caesarian Accession”, “Public Life:  Benefaction and Business”, “Household”, “Judaica”, and “Christianity”, some 29 entries in all.  Recommended!

Ancient Literacy and Graffiti

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(Larry Hurtado)  One of the big issues in debate in recent scholarship on the ancient Roman world is the extent, nature and uses of literacy.  Everyone agrees, it seems, that a majority of people of that time were illiterate, but the size of that majority remains under dispute.

This has implications for students of the NT and earliest Christianity, of course.  For example, some scholars have contended that texts played less of a role than most have assumed, and that “orality” was dominant.  There is much more involved than can be addressed properly here.  Suffice it to say that I’ve not been terribly impressed with the level of acquaintance with the relevant hard data by some of those downplaying the importance/use of texts and pushing for what I am bound to regard as a somewhat simplistic view of “orality”.

By way of illustration, take the incidence of graffiti.  These aren’t typically data reckoned with in some of these discussions, but probably should be.  For graffiti, by their nature, are likely to reflect “sub-literary” use of writing and reading.  Indeed, in graffiti we probably have our most direct access to a “popular” level of ancient Roman societies.

In a fine collection of studies, I point to an interesting essay by Kristina, Milnor, “Literary Literacy in Roman Pompeii:  The Case of Vergil’s Aeneid,” in Ancient Literacies:  The Culture of Reading in Greece and Rome, eds. William A. Johnson and Holt N. Parker (New York:  Oxford University Press, 2009), 288-319.  Milnor discusses the incidence of graffiti that make use of phrases from literary texts, often to make jokes.  As she notes, there are thousands of graffiti from Pompeii alone, and of various types, “written in charcoal, scratched with a stick or stylus, painted with a brush,” giving us “a window onto the language of everyday life in the ancient Roman world,” and giving us direct artifacts of “words written by ordinary people performing an activity (writing graffiti) that we in the modern day do not associate with the cultural elite” (291).

Milnor’s essay is a salutary indication that the full body of data to be considered in engaging the “literacy” vs. “orality” debate is more diverse and demanding that some have recognized.