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CSBS Seminar Papers


Seminar in Early Christianity, Early Judaism, and the Study of Religion

Papers posted here (as they become available) will be summarized only briefly at the session, leaving time for a designated response and substantial conversation.

Adele Reinhartz, University of Ottawa
"Hybrid Identities in the ancient Mediterranean world"

This paper will examine the idea of “hybrid identities” and its component terms --  hybridity and identity -- by considering a selection of individuals and groups whose activities, allegiances, and/or ideas straddle the boundaries constructed by ancient Jewish, Christian and pagan leaders. Among the questions to be considered: What were people doing when they engaged in the practices that we, or perhaps some of their contemporaries, would have considered as belong to the/an “other”? Would those groups and individuals to whom we might attribute “hybrid identity” have agreed with this attribution?  Does the concept of boundaries – whether closed, open, porous, or shifting – remain useful in our attempts to understand something about the ancient Mediterranean world?

William Arnal, University of Regina
"Textual Healing"

"Magic" has been a surprisingly important concept for anthropology and the study of religion, but there remains no consensus at all about what the term means, how useful it is, and whether it is inherently prejudicial. Excellent work on these problems has been especially prominent in the study of late antiquity, ranging from in-depth analyses of Jewish magic to work on Egyptian and Coptic magic, to work on the use of the terminology of magic as a discourse of abuse. But the application of the problematic conceptual apparatus associated with "magic" in anthropology and religious studies has not been well applied to the NT, whether the miracles of Jesus or the behavior of Paul. I will argue that redescribing "magic" in terms of "ritual of contested authority" sheds some important light on the (presentations of the) behaviors of Jesus and Paul.

Colleen Shantz, University of St. Michael’s College
"Rehabilitating Religious Experience" 

The category of religious experience has been a flash point for multiple theoretical and methodological issues in the study of religion, particularly the emergence of the Christianity. This paper considers how the category has functioned as a battleground in the discipline and whether, in the current detente, we might more thoughtfully examine the synergy between its bio-cultural character and its contributions to social change.

Maia Kotrosits, Denison University
"On Sovereignty and Social Networks: Diasporic Brokering in Greco-Roman Associations"

This paper will bring diaspora theory to bear on recent work on Greco-Roman associations, focusing particularly on association inscriptions and/as memorialization, and associations as related to networks of benefaction. While associations themselves aren’t necessarily compensatory mechanisms for displacement or ostensible losses of political sovereignty under Rome (Harland 2006), I will suggest some ways that association inscriptions do carry the weight of broken national/ethnic collectives in them, and act as poignant negotiations of sovereignty, theopolitics, and belonging in a changed political landscape. What changes about our understanding of both the epigraphic landscape of the ancient Mediterranean and Greco-Roman associations when we have the recognitions and interests of diaspora theory in view?

Christine Mitchell, St. Andrew’s College
"The Invention of Religion at Elephantine"

In this paper I examine the Judahite YHW community at Elephantine in the 5th century BCE as a case study for understanding the operation of “religion” in the Persian Empire under the Achaemenids. Using the work of David Chidester and Bruce Lincoln on the study of religion, and working with the primary texts from Elephantine, I hypothesize that the Achaemenids constructed the religion of the Judahites in order to serve imperial interests over Judahite interests. Judahite religion in Elephantine was a form of Achaemenid imperialism. Implications for the study of Judahite and other religions elsewhere in the Achaemenid empire are suggested in my conclusion.


Seminar in Politics in the Hebrew Bible's Prophetic Literature

Robert C. Kashow, Brown University
"The Social Function of Violence in Dreams/Visions: Zechariah’s Seventh Vision as a Case Study"

This paper will further theorize understandings of violence by looking beyond modern ethnographies to include data from an ancient society—namely, ancient Judah, via a text they produced—and by considering a category of violence which to my mind is yet to be investigated—namely, violence depicted in a dream/vision. I will do so by using the seventh vision within the book of Zechariah as a test case. In Zechariah's seventh vision, the prophet recounts a violent scene from his vision in which a woman, who represents a particular wicked act that the prophet's audience was practicing, is victimized. Here I will argue that the prophet was being politically tactical: by crafting a metaphysical/other-worldly act of violence by means of a prophetic vision and not performing a physical act of violence, the prophet was able to accomplish some of the things violence typically accomplishes—e.g., ideological persuasion, shame of a victim, disaffiliation from a particular practice, creating the threat of future (physical) violence—while eschewing escalation and complete social and political disaffiliation, which are typically consequences that accompany a violent act.

Ian Douglas Wilson, University of Alberta
"Isaiah 1-12: Presentation of a Politics"

This paper examines Isaiah 1-12, to work toward an understanding of how Isaiah, the book, in its early Second Temple context, contributed to the remembering and imagining of Judah’s political pasts and futures. The paper pays due attention to the passage’s famous presentations of international and even supernatural political powers (e.g., Assyria in ch. 10; the Davidide in ch. 11), but also to its various presentations of lived experiences under such powers. These presentations of political memory and imaginary in Isaiah’s opening chapters, I argue, would frame and authorize readings of similar presentations throughout the rest of the book, thus constituting a particularly Isaianic political discourse in the early Second Temple era.