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Fw: BMCR 2005.12.18, Heavenly Realms and Earthly Realities

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  • Edward Moore
    ... From: To: ; Sent: Sunday, December 18, 2005 12:32 PM Subject: BMCR 2005.12.18,
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      Subject: BMCR 2005.12.18, Heavenly Realms and Earthly Realities


      > Ra'anan Boustan, Annette Yoshiko Reed, Heavenly Realms and Earthly
      > Realities in Late Antique Religions. Cambridge: Cambridge University
      > Press, 2004. Pp. xiv, 335. ISBN 0-521-83102-4. $80.00.
      >
      > Reviewed by Pablo A. Torijano, Universidad Complutense de Madrid
      > (pat8718@...)
      > Word count: 3549 words
      > -------------------------------
      > To read a print-formatted version of this review, see
      > http://ccat.sas.upenn.edu/bmcr/2005/2005-12-18.html
      > -------------------------------
      >
      > The present volume is the result of a Colloquium on the images of
      > Heaven in Late Antiquity held at Princeton on January 14-15, 2001,
      > where both graduate students and professors presented the results of
      > their ongoing research on "Images of Heaven." This book contains
      > reworked versions of some of those papers together with six
      > contributions solicited especially for this publication. The editors
      > contextualize the papers with a brief introduction (pp. 1-15) where
      > they describe the temporal and geographical axes that define the field
      > of research; they offer a short history of research on Late Antique
      > Religion that stresses the importance of dialogue among the
      > specialists that study different aspects of Late Antiquity. The present
      > work is a magnificent example of such cooperation.
      >
      > The book is divided in three parts: the first is named "Between Earth
      > and Heaven," and focuses on the different attitudes toward the entities
      > that traverse this boundary. In the first paper of this section, "The
      > Bridge and the Ladder: Narrow Passages in Late Antique Religions" (pp.
      > 19-33), Fritz Graf studies the use of the bridge and the ladder images
      > to describe the passage from earth to heaven and shows the basic
      > difference between them, against previous opinions (Eliade, Cumont,
      > Dinzelbacher) that saw them as much the same. The bridge image
      > functions on an horizontal axis and appears for the first time in the
      > sixth century used by Gregory of Tours in book IX of his History of the
      > Franks and by Gregory the Great in his Dialogues. In both texts the
      > bridge is a testing instrument and the fiery river beneath is seen as
      > the boundary between the upper world and the underworld. The main
      > difference with the classical narratives is that the bridge is located
      > in a kind of no-world, since "our world and the world beyond are much
      > too different to share simply contiguity" (p. 27). The ladder image
      > works in a different spatial orientation and it is very popular in
      > eschatological, ascetic and hagiographic texts. Graf studies, among
      > others, its most conspicuous manifestation, Perpetua's ladder,
      > understood by many writers as the starting point of the ladder image in
      > the Christian symbolism. In this text the ladder is transformed into a
      > symbol of martyrdom, although in this meaning it found no following.
      > Graf concludes by stating that Christian imagery stresses verticality
      > both in the bridge and the ladder images. In the first case, a fall
      > into the fiery river represents not an entry into the other world but a
      > test for sinners.
      >
      > In the second paper, "'Heavenly Steps': Manilius 4.119-121 and its
      > Background" (pp. 34-46), Katharina Volk dedicates her attention to this
      > fragment of Manilius's Astronomica, which was bracketed by A. E.
      > Housman in his edition. Volk uses literary criticism to contest this
      > exclusion rather than pure textual criticism. Thus by studying the
      > diction of the passage as well as the traditions from which the writer
      > is drawing, she concludes that the fragment is authentic. According to
      > her, these three lines accord with the use of heavenly journey imagery
      > in the poem and "serve to underline the poet's mission as a mediator
      > between heaven and earth" (p. 45).
      >
      > In the third paper, "Heavenly Ascent, Angelic Descent, and the
      > Transmission of Knowledge in 1 Enoch 6-16" (pp. 47-66), Anette Yoshiko
      > Reed explores the transgression of the boundaries between heaven and
      > earth by doing a detailed study of the text-history and the literary
      > structure of the Book of the Watchers (BW). She shows how in BW there
      > are two different approaches toward knowledge that are embodied in the
      > illicit angelic instruction of the fallen angels and the divine wisdom
      > attained by Enoch after his ascent to heaven. Thus, Reed suggests that
      > 1 Enoch 6-16 reflects an "anti-speculative" approach that emphasizes
      > the corrupting power of knowledge, whereas 1 Enoch 12-16 shows a less
      > radical approach that confronts the ways of the fallen angels and those
      > of the ascended Enoch and examines the relationship between heavenly
      > secrets and earthly knowledge. Their combination results in "a poignant
      > reflection on the power of knowledge, both to corrupt humankind and to
      > save it" (p. 50).
      >
      > In the fourth paper, "'Connecting Heaven and Earth': The function of
      > the Hymns in Revelation 4-5" (pp. 67-84), Gottfried Schimanowski shows
      > how the hymns in Revelations constitute a literary mechanism that unite
      > earthly and heavenly communities in praise. By analyzing the text,
      > Schimanowski makes clear that it has a coherent structure divided in
      > seven units; he focuses in the role that the five hymns play in
      > eschatological salvation. Thus the hymns function as bridges that draw
      > nearer earth and heaven, blurring the boundaries between past, present
      > and future. According to Shimanowski, "the author aims [...] to depict
      > a proleptic experience of heavenly worship sung in unison by angels and
      > humans" (p. 83); the community is thus invited to take up this liturgy
      > so that, through this action, it is strengthened in the face of the
      > challenges and struggles that await it.
      >
      > In the fifth and last paper of the section, "Working Overtime in the
      > Afterlife; or, No Rest for the Virtuous" (pp. 85-100), Sarah Iles
      > Johnston studies several passages from the Chaldean Oracles and other
      > theurgic texts in which the souls of the virtuous dead are rewarded by
      > becoming angels who must help other souls as teachers and guardians.
      > According to Johnston, given the influence of Jewish and Christian
      > ideas in theurgic angelology, it is quite likely that the Jewish and
      > Christian stories about the ascension of righteous people, such as
      > Enoch, Isaiah and Zephaniah, could have had some part in the promotion
      > of the soul to angelic status. The "working" character of those souls
      > promoted to angelic status has parallels in the Hekhalot tradition, but
      > they leave untouched the aspect of the reincarnation that is required
      > in order to help the living. In this, Johnston sees that there are
      > clear reinterpretation of Platonic ideas, namely the transformation of
      > the concept of the "city-state" which is now understood to be the
      > cosmos itself, and the application of the Socrates' theories "of how to
      > live a good life to the afterlife" (p. 98). This Platonic influence
      > challenges the classical dichotomy of locative vs. utopian worldviews,
      > since theurgy, whose worldview is clearly locative, emerges in a
      > Mediterranean oikoumene where utopian religions were raging. The
      > theurgist was "locative" in struggling to keep the cosmos properly
      > organized, and utopian in thinking that the nonmaterial realms were
      > more desirable.
      >
      > In the second section ("Institutionalizing Heaven") the authors turn to
      > traditions about the structure of heaven that draw on earthly models:
      > the temple, the court, the city, the garden and the school. In the
      > first paper "Earthly sacrifice and Heavenly Incense: The Law of the
      > Priesthood in Aramaic Levi and Jubilees" (pp. 103-122), Martha
      > Himmelfarb studies the ambivalent attitude of Early Judaism towards the
      > Second Temple, which oscillated between accepting the earthly reality
      > and rejecting it and longing for the heavenly ideal. Thus, at the
      > positive extreme of such ambivalence, the Aramaic Levi stands sometimes
      > in a certain tension with the Torah directions regarding washing, blood
      > on the garments of the priests, the wood for the altar, the order of
      > sacrifice, the minhah accompanying animal sacrifices, and the weights
      > and measures of the different things needed for sacrifice. Himmelfarb
      > affirms that Aramaic Levi is not, strictly speaking, sectarian in its
      > general character, except for its adherence to a solar calendar. On the
      > other hand, Jubilees ' adaptation of Aramaic Levi's law of the
      > priesthood, while being very similar, introduces some changes
      > especially by placing great emphasis on the aroma of the offerings;
      > thus, the Jubilees' version adds frankincense to all but one of the
      > sacrifices. According to Himmelfarb, this last preference of aroma over
      > blood reflects how the heavenly Temple is depicted following the
      > rituals of the earthly Temple and how the earthly rituals are
      > transformed according to the heavenly rituals.
      >
      > In the next paper, "Who's on the Throne? Revelation in the Long Year?"
      > (pp. 123-141), John W. Marshall suggests that Revelation should be
      > interpreted as a Jewish document responding on one side to the
      > questions of Diaspora Jews during the Judaean War, and, on the other
      > side, to the new situation posed by the imperial succession of Nero.
      > Marshal argues for an appropriation and reinterpretation of the
      > imperial ideology by juxtaposing fragments of certain Graeco-Roman
      > historians (mainly, Suetonius, Josephus, Dio Cassius and Tacitus)
      > beside John "as both scrutinize the heavens" (p. 125) to answer the
      > question "Who is really on the throne?" (p. 125). Although John does
      > answer that question very differently from his Graeco-Roman
      > counterparts, he does refer to the same means and does look into signs
      > and marvels and does interpret them. Marshall has interwoven narrative
      > literary data quite different in origin but related in historical
      > context, that of the cults of Roman rulers. This "enables us to see him
      > and his form of first-century Asian Judaism as standing in continuity
      > with the environment that is also a source of such vehement tension"
      > (p. 141).
      >
      > In "The Earthly Monastery and the Transformation of the Heavenly city
      > in Late Antique Egypt" (pp. 142-173), Kirsti Copeland studies the
      > development of Early Christian ideas about the heavenly city from
      > biblical and early Jewish texts on the heavenly Temple and the heavenly
      > Jerusalem, which appeared in almost every ascent narrative of the
      > apocalyptic tradition. According to her, Christians gradually separated
      > the notions of the heavenly Jerusalem from its earthly reality and
      > transferred the images associated with it to the idea of a heavenly
      > monastery. This was a very gradual change, as Iraeneus and Tertullianus
      > in the second century kept cherishing the connection between the
      > earthly and the heavenly Jerusalems, and there was a strong Gentile
      > Christian belief in an earthly reign of Christ in Jerusalem. However,
      > Origen dissolved the connection between heavenly and earthly
      > Jerusalems; his influence slowly changed the double conception, and the
      > third-fourth century Egyptian Christians gradually did separate both
      > Jerusalems and hoped only for the heavenly one. Thus, for Athanasius
      > Jerusalem is "a spiritual concept", and in his second Letter to Virgins
      > "foreshadows what is to become the earthly counterpart of the heavenly
      > Jerusalem for many late antique Egyptian Christians" (p. 151). In the
      > next centuries, the monks become the earthly counterpart of the angels,
      > and in the same way the monastery becomes the terrestrial complement of
      > the heavenly city. This is most evident in the Apocalypse of Paul,
      > where the City of Christ shows more clearly that dichotomy.
      >
      > In the next paper, "Contextualizing Heaven in Third-Century North
      > Africa" (pp. 159-173), Jan N. Bremmer points out how little evidence
      > about notions of heaven we have in Early Christian texts, although the
      > concept seems to have been accepted without much discussion,
      > supplemented with "personalized" twists. Bremmer studies the North
      > African Passio Sanctorum Mariani et Iacobi one of those "personalized"
      > accounts of heaven, written in the middle of the third century. He
      > adduces several parallels from other visions (Passion of Perpetua, Life
      > of Cyprian, Acts of Paul, Acts of Peter, Apocalypse of Peter, among
      > others) and focuses in the scenes that appear repeated in them (the
      > court scene, the heavenly landscape, the fountain and the cup).
      > Marian's vision of heaven is characterized by a vertical symbolism (the
      > heaven is above us) and appears depicted somehow as a garden, which
      > points to the Garden of Eden; finally in this vision, martyrdom and
      > heaven are closely connected. Bremmer concludes by emphasizing that
      > "traditions must always be appropriated, and this process is
      > conditioned by the context in which we find ourselves: be it on earth
      > or, as in Marian's case, in heaven" (p. 173).
      >
      > In the last paper of the second section, "Bringing the Heavenly Academy
      > Down to Earth: Approaches to the Imagery of Divine Pedagogy in the East
      > Syrian Tradition" (pp. 174-194), Adam H. Becker addresses the Cause of
      > the Foundation of the Schools and suggests new approaches to
      > understanding the origin of the image of heaven as classroom in the
      > development of East Syrian Christian scholasticism. Becker focuses his
      > analysis on the passage that describes the heavenly classroom at the
      > time of creation. After translating this passage and summarizing other
      > parts of the Cause, Becker discusses the evident influence of Theodore
      > of Mopsuestia's Commentary of Genesis on the passage, but he also notes
      > that "rich and detailed imagery that we find in the Cause has no
      > parallel in Theodore's works" (179). Another influence to be taken into
      > account is that of Ephraem the Syrian who saw God as an instructor. The
      > instruction model is well known in Early Christianity and is
      > particularly important in the Syriac milieu. After studying several
      > examples of pedagogical terminology, Becker concludes that the image of
      > God as pedagogue and the understanding of Christianity as learning
      > predate in the Syriac milieu the translation of Theodore's works. In
      > addition, Becker underlines the importance of the actual historical
      > setting of the Cause, i.e., the scholastic world of the East Syrian
      > church. Authors such as Narsai show how both "institutionalizations",
      > the heavenly and the earthly, evolved together. Finally, the classroom
      > imagery is explored in the Babylonian Jewish ambiance with respect to
      > its relationship with the neighboring Christian Syrian milieu.
      >
      > The last section ("Tradition and Innovation") focuses on how tradition
      > is changed in Late Antiquity. Thus, in the first paper, "Angels in the
      > Architecture: Temple Art and the Poetics of Praise in the Songs of the
      > Sabbath Sacrifice" (pp. 195-212), Ra'anan S. Boustan offers a new
      > approach to the Songs, that differs from the traditional interpretative
      > framework about the "numinous" character of the composition. On the
      > contrary Boutan affirms that the literary form of the Songs pursues the
      > "angelification" of the architecture of the Temple which becomes
      > animated in the descriptive process and therefore is assimilated to the
      > angelic host. According to him, "the rich architectural and graphic
      > detail found in the Songs grows out of an ekphrastic tradition in which
      > angelological speculation was articulated through the language of the
      > material cult" (p. 203); in addition, it is clear that the relationship
      > between Jewish angelology and the ekphrastic tradition of the Hebrew
      > Bible "may challenge long-cherished notions concerning the aniconism of
      > early Judaism" (p. 212).
      >
      > In the next paper, "The Collapse of Celestial and Chthonic Realms in a
      > Late Antique 'Apollonian Invocation' [PGM I 262-347]" (pp. 213-232),
      > Christopher A. Faraone discusses several invocations to Apollo in the
      > PGM (III 282-409, III 187-262, II 64-184, I 262-347); after analyzing
      > the texts in detail, he tackles the last invocation, which seems to
      > combine two different realms, the celestial and the chthonic, departing
      > therefore from the traditional view in Greek cult and mythology. This
      > came about in several steps, perhaps the identification of
      > Apollo-Helios with Re and Shamash being the first of them, since both
      > deities are closely involved with the underworld. Besides, one of the
      > compositions borrows the language of traditional Greek necromantic
      > ritual, which confirms the syncretistic tendencies of late imperial
      > pagan religion.
      >
      > In the third paper, "In Heaven as It is in Hell; The Cosmology of Seder
      > Rabbah di-Bereshit" (233-274), Peter Scha+fer studies this little known
      > post-Talmud / early Geonic period text. Most of this text is not
      > exegetical; it is composed of several "microforms" that can exist as
      > independent units as well. What seems to be a Midrash to Ge 1:1 becomes
      > a description of the seven heavens and the worlds and underworlds
      > beneath them. This cosmology differs from the earlier Jewish
      > cosmologies in its interest in what is beneath the heavens. The
      > different manuscripts that preserve it describe the unity of the cosmos
      > and the delicate equilibrium between the different spheres of creation.
      > Thus, to each heaven corresponds a certain earth that mirrors it.
      > Scha+fer shows this equivalence by means of fourteen concentric
      > semicircles which meet each other at a central horizontal axis.
      > Scha+fer states that the description constitutes a list, where "the
      > lowest earth and the highest heaven contain precisely the same
      > inventory: God himself and his immediate entourage" (p. 242). In fact,
      > the main message of the text seems to be "just as his Shekhinah is
      > above, so too is Shekhinah below" (p. 243). This constitutes the first
      > case in the Jewish tradition in which a cosmological structure
      > maintains a perfect balance between heaven and earth. After analyzing
      > the composition of the Seder, Scha+fer takes into consideration the
      > history of the heaven / earth motifs in Jewish tradition and studies
      > Jewish and Christian apocalypses and their heavenly focus as well as
      > the main rabbinic texts that are "conspicuously colorless" (p. 270),
      > since they do not furnish any details about the earths or the
      > netherworlds and seem to stick to the old view of a pile of heavens and
      > earths "like a multistory building". Finally Scha+fer takes a look at
      > the Hekhalot literature, and he concludes that "the Hekhalot literature
      > seems to combine the old biblical model with its seven-story heaven and
      > the new Ptolemaic model" (p. 274).
      >
      > In the next paper ("The Faces of the Moon: Cosmology, Genesis and the
      > Mithras Liturgy" (pp. 275-295) Radcliffe G. Edmonds III locates the
      > different faces of the moon and the cosmology of the Mithras Liturgy
      > within the array of the different cosmological stances of the first
      > centuries C.E. He argues that the warning about the face of the Moon
      > and the avoidance of the moon in the Liturgy originate in a concrete
      > cosmology whereas the positive attitude that can be observed in Julian
      > and Plutarch stem from a different cosmological choice. He analyzes
      > several elements such as the role of the moon in the cosmological
      > divisions, the soul's descent from the higher realms into matter, and
      > finally, the nature of the feminine intermediary powers that rule over
      > the boundaries between the cosmic divisions. Edmonds proposes that the
      > ambivalent character of the moon has to do with the conception of the
      > genesis and incarnation of souls as well as with the actual experience
      > of living in the world, since different cosmological perspectives
      > permitted different vital attitudes. The Mithras Liturgy and the
      > magical spells incarnate a rather pessimistic view of the nature of the
      > moon, and by extension, of the world.
      >
      > In the last contribution,"'Oh Paradoxical fusion!': Gregory of
      > Nazianzus on Baptism and Cosmology [Orations 38-40]" (pp. 296-315),
      > Susana Elm studies the innovative conception of baptism as a fusion
      > between human and divine; according to her, Gregory avoided the
      > traditional view of "conversion" considered as a sudden change and
      > adopted a more gradual approach that envisioned religious change as a
      > process. To show this, Elm studies the relationship between conversion
      > and inscription, the idea of incarnation as appears in Gregory's
      > exegesis of Genesis, and the "terminology of light" that is crucial to
      > the understanding of Gregory's cosmological construct. All these
      > concepts are subsumed in his theology of baptism. Finally, Elm
      > addresses the reasons why Gregrory felt compelled to elaborate his
      > ideas on baptism; Elm points out that Gregory's conception was not
      > dominant in his time and was competing with other visions that were
      > very popular among the elite of the period, as the vision of the
      > Novatians who preferred baptism late in life, that of the so called
      > "Poor" who thought of baptism as almost superfluous, or the Eunomians
      > who defended different ideas on the Incarnation. However, Gregory's
      > forceful preaching had success in confronting some of those positions,
      > and several of them were condemned by Theodosius in 381.
      >
      > This book is a superb example of both editorship and scholarship. It
      > does not suffer from having originated in a conference, for the common
      > focus holds the different contributions together, with the exception
      > perhaps of the otherwise brilliant contribution of Elm. However there
      > are some problems that could have been avoided: the final index
      > includes at the same time authors and subject themes, which I find not
      > very useful; besides, several small slips have crept into it (e.g., on
      > p. 324 the heading "bridges" has the sub-heading "shamanistic ascension
      > ritual" referring to pp. 23 and 176 where there are no such
      > references). Regarding the Bibliography, the editors or perhaps the
      > Press seem to have followed British rules instead of sticking to the
      > SBL Handbook of Style; thus, in most cases the quotations in this
      > volume provide only initials and place of publication, which makes life
      > difficult for the scholar who simply wants to cite a work of this
      > volume without going to the source itself. The book is virtually free
      > of typos, with the exception of a few that I have spotted in
      > bibliographical quotations (e.g., p. 298 Congreso Internacional La
      > Hispania di Teodosio, instead of La Hispania de Teodosio).
      >
      > Regarding the scholarship, each and every contribution provides new
      > insights and useful information. The authors show a great command of
      > the sources at their disposal and introduce the reader to new ways of
      > analysis. This does not mean that the present reviewer agrees with
      > every conclusion; e.g., I find a bit problematic Scha+fer's use of
      > Second Enoch in his contribution; in the same way, I am not so
      > confident as Johnston about the origin of the new role of the virtuous'
      > soul, neither do I find absolutely convincing Faraone's hypothesis of
      > the influence of Eastern sun deities on the chthonic characterization
      > of Apollo as it appears in the invocations. However, no scholar ever
      > agrees in every aspect with his colleagues, so these minor details
      > should not deter any reader of tackling such a sound and serious book.
      >
      >
      > -------------------------------
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