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Opinions on Rowland Smith's

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  • vaeringjar
    I had been meaning to get some reaction to this (relatively) new book on Julian - here are some excerpts from the BMCR review that sum up the issues I was
    Message 1 of 4 , Nov 22, 2006
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      I had been meaning to get some reaction to this (relatively) new book
      on Julian - here are some excerpts from the BMCR review that sum up
      the issues I was mainly interested in well enough:


      Smith (pp. 109-113) posits a connection between Iamblichus'
      interpretation of the Oracles and a rise in anti-Christian sentiment
      during the early fourth century. This shift, Smith thinks, had some
      effect on Julian, though one hardly so great as to lead him to plan
      the foundation of a pagan church whose ritual would reflect a
      Neoplatonic orthodoxy, as Bidez, Bowersock, and, most pointedly,
      Athanassiadi have alleged. Instead, Smith finds the model for
      Julian's "pagan church" in the legislation of Maximinus Daia, and
      notes that, despite the Neoplatonic connections of some of Julian's
      appointees to priesthoods, nowhere does Julian mandate to them the
      studies or practices associated with theurgy. Rather, says Smith (p.
      113), Iamblichan theurgy "was part of [Julian's] personal credo, but
      not the whole of it. It belonged principally to the philosophic piety
      of the private man, telling him how the universe cohered and the
      happy fate that awaited his soul. ... We need not think on that
      account that he wished to transform the ancestral cults of the Empire
      into an earthly monument to the One God of the philosophers."

      This interpretation of Julian's relationship to the philosophy of
      Iamblichus is central to Smith's subsequent Chapters 5 through 7, on
      Mithraism, the Metroac worship, and Christianity, respectively. Smith
      initially attempts to set the cults of Mithras and Cybele within a
      cultural framework, distinguishing, in the process, between
      speculative interest in the mysteries and actual initiation and
      participation.

      It is no surprise that the massive researches of Cumont on Mithraism
      left an indelible impression on his colleague Bidez, and, given the
      immense and largely justified influence of Bidez' La Vie de
      l'Empereur Julien, that Mithraism has been accorded a prime position
      in Julian's thought, as, for example, by Athanassiadi. Though
      Bowersock voiced a succinct demurral, it is Smith, drawing upon
      recent trends in Mithraic scholarship, who offers the first detailed
      critique of what has become the generally accepted view of a close
      connection between Julian and Mithraic doctrine. Smith rightly
      cautions against a narrow emphasis on alleged soteriological aspects
      of Mithraism and the assumption that initiation into the cult
      necessarily entailed any deep commitment to active involvement.
      Philosophical interests, in Julian's case based on Iamblichan
      Neoplatonism, appear to Smith to have prompted the Emperor's interest
      in the mysteries in general and in Mithraism in particular. Mithraic
      ritual provided a subject for philosophical exegesis but did not
      substitute for theurgic rites linked by Iamblichus to the divine
      revelations of the Chaldaean Oracles. Indeed, Smith raises important
      doubts about the date of Julian's acknowledged initiation into the
      cult of Mithras, placed by Athanassiadi in 351, and demonstrates the
      role played by modern identifications of Mithras with the god Helios
      in attempts to link this initiation to Julian's involvement with
      Neoplatonic theurgy, his "conversion" to paganism, or his initiation
      in the Eleusinian Mysteries during his brief stay in Athens. As for
      the Mysteries of Cybele, though a precise date for Julian's
      initiation is beyond recovery, an early formal involvement on his
      part is suggested by the prominence of the cult of Magna Mater at
      Ephesus and by the association of Hecate, so important to theurgic
      ritual, with Cybele (pp. 137-138).

      If Mithraic doctrine did exert any significant influence on Julian,
      Smith reasons, it would be most evident in the Hymn to King Helios.
      Chapter 6 tests this hypothesis in light of current notions of
      Mithraism. The result is a convincing case that almost all of what
      has generally been taken to reflect Mithraism in the Hymn actually
      derives from Julian's understanding of the Chaldean Oracles and from
      Iamblichan theurgy. In addition, Chapter 6 offers good reasons to
      grant the cult of Cybele pride of place over that of Mithras in
      Julian's mind. Especially interesting is Smith's contrast of Mithras -
      - a relatively modern cult, popular among soldiers and thought to
      have Persian origins -- to Sol Invictus and to Cybele, whose Phrygian
      origins linked her to those of Rome, who was protector of the Roman
      state, possessor of cult centers throughout the West, including Rome
      herself, and patroness of pious Emperors. Little wonder, says Smith
      (p. 178), that it was not through the mysteries of Mithras but
      through Cybele and her cult that Julian thought "the Empire could be
      cleansed of 'the stain of atheism' (Or. 5.180b)."

      http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/1997/97.03.22.html

      I am most curious about people's thoughts on his very limited view of
      Mithraic thought as an influence, etc, on Julian, and there
      especially as regards the Hymn to Helios. This is a general question
      for me - not related to any work I am doing. I have read most of the
      book and have just recently finished Athanassiadi's as well, plus all
      the other major biographies except Bidez; personally I am not sure
      what to think about this particular issue, since I guess I had just
      assumed - wrongly? - that Julian was heavily influenced by Mithraism.

      Any thoughts on any of this?

      The reviewer here, Thomas Banchich, mentions in his review that Smith
      appears not to have taken into consideration a number of recent works
      on Julian that he really should have, including <Julian and the
      Rebirth of Hellenism>, which I take to be a collection of essays. I
      can't find anything online about the content of that book, and it's
      not at the U of Washington library. Anyone know at least the titles
      of the articles included in it? Thanks.

      Dennis Clark
    • curt
      Thanks very much for posting this. It seems pretty clear to me that Smith s bio of Julian fits into one distinct category, while Bowersock s typifies another
      Message 2 of 4 , Dec 5, 2006
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        Thanks very much for posting this. It seems pretty clear to me that
        Smith's bio of Julian fits into one distinct category, while Bowersock's
        typifies another category.

        Smith is of the camp that there really was a struggle between
        Christianity and Paganism - while Bowersock is of the camp that there
        really wasn't. Both men are looking at the same evidence, and they both
        appear to be highly intelligent and I have no doubt that they sincerely
        hold the opinions they express and have arrived at them in good faith.
        It's like legal scholars looking at the US constitution - some see a
        "right to privacy" in there, and some don't.

        Its worth pointing out the Catch-22 logic that is required by
        Bowersock's view. Namely, if one blindly believes that Pagans did not
        actively oppose the advance of Christianity, then, therefore, anyone
        (like Julian) who did actively the advance of Christianity .... wasn't
        "really" a Pagan!!!

        Unfortunately I think that Banchich was rather over-optimistic in his
        review when he hoped out loud that Smith's book would result in "calling
        into question what had become or were rapidly becoming the givens of
        Julianic studies." Perhaps if Smith's book had a list price of $15.95
        things would be different!

        - Curt

        vaeringjar wrote:
        >
        > I had been meaning to get some reaction to this (relatively) new book
        > on Julian - here are some excerpts from the BMCR review that sum up
        > the issues I was mainly interested in well enough:
        >
        > Smith (pp. 109-113) posits a connection between Iamblichus'
        > interpretation of the Oracles and a rise in anti-Christian sentiment
        > during the early fourth century. This shift, Smith thinks, had some
        > effect on Julian, though one hardly so great as to lead him to plan
        > the foundation of a pagan church whose ritual would reflect a
        > Neoplatonic orthodoxy, as Bidez, Bowersock, and, most pointedly,
        > Athanassiadi have alleged. Instead, Smith finds the model for
        > Julian's "pagan church" in the legislation of Maximinus Daia, and
        > notes that, despite the Neoplatonic connections of some of Julian's
        > appointees to priesthoods, nowhere does Julian mandate to them the
        > studies or practices associated with theurgy. Rather, says Smith (p.
        > 113), Iamblichan theurgy "was part of [Julian's] personal credo, but
        > not the whole of it. It belonged principally to the philosophic piety
        > of the private man, telling him how the universe cohered and the
        > happy fate that awaited his soul. ... We need not think on that
        > account that he wished to transform the ancestral cults of the Empire
        > into an earthly monument to the One God of the philosophers."
        >
        > This interpretation of Julian's relationship to the philosophy of
        > Iamblichus is central to Smith's subsequent Chapters 5 through 7, on
        > Mithraism, the Metroac worship, and Christianity, respectively. Smith
        > initially attempts to set the cults of Mithras and Cybele within a
        > cultural framework, distinguishing, in the process, between
        > speculative interest in the mysteries and actual initiation and
        > participation.
        >
        > It is no surprise that the massive researches of Cumont on Mithraism
        > left an indelible impression on his colleague Bidez, and, given the
        > immense and largely justified influence of Bidez' La Vie de
        > l'Empereur Julien, that Mithraism has been accorded a prime position
        > in Julian's thought, as, for example, by Athanassiadi. Though
        > Bowersock voiced a succinct demurral, it is Smith, drawing upon
        > recent trends in Mithraic scholarship, who offers the first detailed
        > critique of what has become the generally accepted view of a close
        > connection between Julian and Mithraic doctrine. Smith rightly
        > cautions against a narrow emphasis on alleged soteriological aspects
        > of Mithraism and the assumption that initiation into the cult
        > necessarily entailed any deep commitment to active involvement.
        > Philosophical interests, in Julian's case based on Iamblichan
        > Neoplatonism, appear to Smith to have prompted the Emperor's interest
        > in the mysteries in general and in Mithraism in particular. Mithraic
        > ritual provided a subject for philosophical exegesis but did not
        > substitute for theurgic rites linked by Iamblichus to the divine
        > revelations of the Chaldaean Oracles. Indeed, Smith raises important
        > doubts about the date of Julian's acknowledged initiation into the
        > cult of Mithras, placed by Athanassiadi in 351, and demonstrates the
        > role played by modern identifications of Mithras with the god Helios
        > in attempts to link this initiation to Julian's involvement with
        > Neoplatonic theurgy, his "conversion" to paganism, or his initiation
        > in the Eleusinian Mysteries during his brief stay in Athens. As for
        > the Mysteries of Cybele, though a precise date for Julian's
        > initiation is beyond recovery, an early formal involvement on his
        > part is suggested by the prominence of the cult of Magna Mater at
        > Ephesus and by the association of Hecate, so important to theurgic
        > ritual, with Cybele (pp. 137-138).
        >
        > If Mithraic doctrine did exert any significant influence on Julian,
        > Smith reasons, it would be most evident in the Hymn to King Helios.
        > Chapter 6 tests this hypothesis in light of current notions of
        > Mithraism. The result is a convincing case that almost all of what
        > has generally been taken to reflect Mithraism in the Hymn actually
        > derives from Julian's understanding of the Chaldean Oracles and from
        > Iamblichan theurgy. In addition, Chapter 6 offers good reasons to
        > grant the cult of Cybele pride of place over that of Mithras in
        > Julian's mind. Especially interesting is Smith's contrast of Mithras -
        > - a relatively modern cult, popular among soldiers and thought to
        > have Persian origins -- to Sol Invictus and to Cybele, whose Phrygian
        > origins linked her to those of Rome, who was protector of the Roman
        > state, possessor of cult centers throughout the West, including Rome
        > herself, and patroness of pious Emperors. Little wonder, says Smith
        > (p. 178), that it was not through the mysteries of Mithras but
        > through Cybele and her cult that Julian thought "the Empire could be
        > cleansed of 'the stain of atheism' (Or. 5.180b)."
        >
        > http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/1997/97.03.22.html
        > <http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/1997/97.03.22.html>
        >
        > I am most curious about people's thoughts on his very limited view of
        > Mithraic thought as an influence, etc, on Julian, and there
        > especially as regards the Hymn to Helios. This is a general question
        > for me - not related to any work I am doing. I have read most of the
        > book and have just recently finished Athanassiadi's as well, plus all
        > the other major biographies except Bidez; personally I am not sure
        > what to think about this particular issue, since I guess I had just
        > assumed - wrongly? - that Julian was heavily influenced by Mithraism.
        >
        > Any thoughts on any of this?
        >
        > The reviewer here, Thomas Banchich, mentions in his review that Smith
        > appears not to have taken into consideration a number of recent works
        > on Julian that he really should have, including <Julian and the
        > Rebirth of Hellenism>, which I take to be a collection of essays. I
        > can't find anything online about the content of that book, and it's
        > not at the U of Washington library. Anyone know at least the titles
        > of the articles included in it? Thanks.
        >
        > Dennis Clark
        >
        >
      • vaeringjar
        ... Bowersock s ... there ... both ... sincerely ... faith. ... a ... not ... anyone ... wasn t ... his ... in calling ... of ... $15.95 ... You re welcome -
        Message 3 of 4 , Dec 5, 2006
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          --- In neoplatonism@yahoogroups.com, curt <curt@...> wrote:
          >
          > Thanks very much for posting this. It seems pretty clear to me that
          > Smith's bio of Julian fits into one distinct category, while
          Bowersock's
          > typifies another category.
          >
          > Smith is of the camp that there really was a struggle between
          > Christianity and Paganism - while Bowersock is of the camp that
          there
          > really wasn't. Both men are looking at the same evidence, and they
          both
          > appear to be highly intelligent and I have no doubt that they
          sincerely
          > hold the opinions they express and have arrived at them in good
          faith.
          > It's like legal scholars looking at the US constitution - some see
          a
          > "right to privacy" in there, and some don't.
          >
          > Its worth pointing out the Catch-22 logic that is required by
          > Bowersock's view. Namely, if one blindly believes that Pagans did
          not
          > actively oppose the advance of Christianity, then, therefore,
          anyone
          > (like Julian) who did actively the advance of Christianity ....
          wasn't
          > "really" a Pagan!!!
          >
          > Unfortunately I think that Banchich was rather over-optimistic in
          his
          > review when he hoped out loud that Smith's book would result
          in "calling
          > into question what had become or were rapidly becoming the givens
          of
          > Julianic studies." Perhaps if Smith's book had a list price of
          $15.95
          > things would be different!
          >
          > - Curt
          >

          You're welcome - I haven't read Bowersock's biography in a very long
          time; all my memory is, to be honest, and it may be really mistaken,
          was that he was hardly sympathetic to Julian in any way. After
          spending a lot of time lately with his Hymn to Helios, I have to say
          I - still - have a lot of respect. Not that I am also unaware of his
          shortcomings.

          I fear Routledge is not likely to reduce their prices any time soon!

          Dennis Clark
        • curt
          Yes - Bowersock is unreservedly unsympathetic. His attitude toward Julian could be compared to the attitude a blitzing linebacker towards the opposing team s
          Message 4 of 4 , Dec 5, 2006
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            Yes - Bowersock is unreservedly unsympathetic. His attitude toward
            Julian could be compared to the attitude a blitzing linebacker towards
            the opposing team's quarterback - with about as much subtlety of
            expression. Nevertheless I consider it an invaluable source. Bowersock
            knows his stuff when it comes to late antiquity - if anyone could build
            a solid case "against" Julian it would be someone like him. The fact is
            that he phases between mere reportage and ad hominem attacks in a way
            that really should be embarrassing for a professional historian - but
            apparently is not. I now have a much greater appreciation for Hoffmann's
            book! At least where Hoffmann errs it is not due to a blind hatred for
            his subject matter.

            - Curt

            vaeringjar wrote:
            >
            > I haven't read Bowersock's biography in a very long
            > time; all my memory is, to be honest, and it may be really mistaken,
            > was that he was hardly sympathetic to Julian in any way. After
            > spending a lot of time lately with his Hymn to Helios, I have to say
            > I - still - have a lot of respect. Not that I am also unaware of his
            > shortcomings.
            >
            > I fear Routledge is not likely to reduce their prices any time soon!
            >
            >
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