Among the Gentiles: Greco-Roman Religion and Christianity by Luke Timothy Johnson

By Luke Timothy Johnson

The query of Christianity’s relation to the opposite religions of the area is extra pertinent and hard at the present time than ever sooner than. whereas Christianity’s old failure to understand or actively interact Judaism is infamous, Christianity’s much more shoddy checklist with admire to “pagan” religions is much less understood. Christians have inherited an almost unanimous theological culture that thinks of paganism when it comes to demonic ownership, and of Christian missions as a rescue operation that saves pagans from inherently evil practices.

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Extra resources for Among the Gentiles: Greco-Roman Religion and Christianity

Sample text

The intensity of the experience, however, makes it qualitatively distinct and exis­ tentially demanding. " The first phrase points to the inevitably hermeneutical character of all religious response. It is deeply subjective or, perhaps better, intersubjective. The ultimate power to which one responds is not the same for everyone; it is a matter of "being perceived" as ul­ timate. Notice how this small phrase opens the way to a more neutral analysis of religious phenomena. The issue is not whose ultimate is truly ultimate; the issue is the way a response to something as ultimate gives rise to certain behav­ iors.

Public time and public space alike were religiously organized. l0 A given month was punctuated by the festivals that created pauses in profane ac­ tivity and enabled communion among gods and humans through rest, ritual, and public feasting. II Temples and shrines were omnipresent and served multi­ ple functions: they were sanctuaries for the pursued and prosecuted, and they served as repositories of wealth and administrative archives. 14 The link between the domestic and the civic can be shown by the piety that at­ tached itself to the family hearth-the fire was never extinguished-and that connected to the cult of the Vestal Virgins, who oversaw the sacred and indistin­ guish able flame that protected the entire Roman oikoumene.

A 22 Beginning a New Conversation single overwhelming realization comes over anyone who has surveyed this evi­ dence, and that is how impossible it would have been for either Jew or Chris­ tian to completely avoid contact with Greco-Roman religion, so public were its temples and shrines, so pervasive were its markers and emblems, so common were the depictions of its myths. In addition to all these material remains-the stones and statues, temples and houses-archaeologists have also made available thousands of inscriptions that inform us not only about the doings of kings and rulers but also about how ordinary people ate and drank and bathed together in public.

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