"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Monday, May 30, 2022

Relishing Rather than Rubbishing Byzance avant Byzance

The older I get the more I realize that too much Christian hagiography, and more generally treatment of pre-Christian history, in whatever context, traffics in tendentiousness and gives much evidence of focusing on chosen traumas and chosen glories, to use Vamik Volkan's invaluable language. Too often Christian renderings of history likes to posit a sharp before-and-after break, rubbishing everything before a designated date as "pagan" or "heathen" and portraying the coming of Christianity as unmitigated "enlightenment."

A forthcoming book rather complicates such tales and dynamics: Between the Pagan Past and Christian Present in Byzantine Visual Culture: Statues in Constantinople, 4th-13th Centuries CE by Paroma Chatterjee  (Cambridge University Press, 2022, 350pp.)

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Up to its pillage by the Crusaders in 1204, Constantinople teemed with magnificent statues of emperors, pagan gods, and mythical beasts. Yet the significance of this wealth of public sculpture has hardly been acknowledged beyond late antiquity. In this book, Paroma Chatterjee offers a new perspective on the topic, arguing that pagan statues were an integral part of Byzantine visual culture. Examining the evidence in patriographies, chronicles, novels, and epigrams, she demonstrates that the statues were admired for three specific qualities - longevity, mimesis, and prophecy; attributes that rendered them outside of imperial control and endowed them with an enduring charisma sometimes rivaling that of holy icons. Chatterjee's  interpretations refine our conceptions of imperial imagery, the Hippodrome, the Macedonian Renaissance, a corpus of secular objects, and Orthodox icons. Her book offers novel insights into Iconoclasm and proposes a more truncated trajectory of the holy icon in medieval Orthodoxy than has been previously acknowledged.

Friday, May 27, 2022

Byzantine Art and Architecture

I have to think that one trick of maintaining a profitable press in these days is to slap the word "Byzantine" on something. Books with that in their title always seem to sell well, and there is no shortage in books so titled, which steadily appear in bunches year after year. 

Along comes another international scholarly collection with some very prominent scholars in it whose names will be familiar to readers of this blog if they reward themselves with a copy of The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Art and Architecture, ed. Ellen C. Schwartz (Oxford UP, Dec. 2021), 784pp. 

About this impressive collection the publisher tells us this:

Byzantine art has been an underappreciated field, often treated as an adjunct to the arts of the medieval West, if considered at all. In illustrating the richness and diversity of art in the Byzantine world, this handbook will help establish the subject as a distinct field worthy of serious inquiry.

Essays consider Byzantine art as art made in the eastern Mediterranean world, including the Balkans, Russia, the Near East and north Africa, between the years 330 and 1453. Much of this art was made for religious purposes, created to enhance and beautify the Orthodox liturgy and worship space, as well as to serve in a royal or domestic context. Discussions in this volume will consider both aspects of this artistic creation, across a wide swath of geography and a long span of time.

The volume marries older, object-based considerations of themes and monuments which form the backbone of art history, to considerations drawing on many different methodologies-sociology, semiotics, anthropology, archaeology, reception theory, deconstruction theory, and so on-in an up-to-date synthesis of scholarship on Byzantine art and architecture. The Oxford Handbook of Byzantine Art and Architecture is a comprehensive overview of a particularly rich field of study, offering a window into the world of this fascinating and beautiful period of art.

Wednesday, May 25, 2022

Christianity and Islam in Ethiopia and Africa

It always cheers the heart to see that increasingly scholars studying disciplines they label "politics" realize that things labelled "religion" (etc.) are by no means separable from the study of the former. In that light, the Routledge Handbook of the Horn of Africa, ed. Jean-Nicolas Bach (February 2022, 784pp.) has an entire section exploring Islam and Christianity in Africa, with a particular focus on Ethiopian Orthodox Christianity, about which I wrote only this week. 

About this collection the publisher further tells us this: 

The Routledge Handbook of the Horn of Africa provides a comprehensive, interdisciplinary survey of contemporary research related to the Horn of Africa.

Situated at the junction of the Sahel-Saharan strip and the Arabian Peninsula, the Horn of Africa is growing in global importance, due to demographic growth and the strategic importance of the Suez Canal. Divided into sections on authoritarianism and resistance, religion and politics, migration, economic integration, the military and regimes and liberation, the contributors provide up-to-date, authoritative knowledge on the region in light of contemporary strategic concerns. The handbook investigates how political, economic and security innovations have been implemented, sometimes with violence, by use of force, or by negotiation; including ‘ethnic federalism’ in Ethiopia, independence in Eritrea and South Sudan, integration of the traditional authorities in the (neo)patrimonial administrations, Somalian Islamic Courts, the Sudanese Islamist regime, people’s movements, multilateral operations and the construction of an architecture for regional peace and security.

Accessibly written, this handbook is an essential read for scholars, students and policy professionals interested in the contemporary politics in the Horn of Africa.

Monday, May 23, 2022

Italian Barbarism in Abyssinia

Ethiopian Orthodox Christians are noteworthy and unique for many things, not least their vibrant iconography on which I commented here. Theirs remains the largest Christian church in all of Africa. 

There are other reasons--sorrowful and disgusting--that they stand out, not least for being subject to a quasi-genocide by other Christians less than a century ago. A recent edition of the London Review of Books contains a review that discusses some of the horrifying and infuriating details of atrocities committed against Ethiopian Orthodox Christians by Italian Roman Catholics. Much of the former's sacred vessels and art were stolen by the latter, their monastic sites destroyed, and many thousands of Ethiopian Christians were outright murdered by the latter during Mussolini's colonial adventures in Africa nearly a century ago now. 

The details recounted in this new book would lend themselves to being compiled in a much larger volume of shame someone should write, Roman Sins Against Eastern Christians. Earlier shameful stories about Jesuit intrigues against Ethiopian Orthodox Christians would fill part of this proposed volume, but they would pale in comparison to the stories told in Holy War: The Untold Story of Catholic Italy's Crusade Against the Ethiopian Orthodox Church by Ian Campbell (Hurst, 2021), 336pp.

About this new book the publisher tells us this:

In 1935, Fascist Italy invaded the sovereign state of Ethiopia--a war of conquest that triggered a chain of events culminating in the Second World War. In this stunning and highly original tale of two Churches, historian Ian Campbell brings a whole new perspective to the story, revealing that bishops of the Italian Catholic Church facilitated the invasion by sanctifying it as a crusade against the world's second-oldest national Church. Cardinals and archbishops rallied the support of Catholic Italy for Il Duce's invading armies by denouncing Ethiopian Christians as heretics and schismatics and announcing that the onslaught was an assignment from God.

Campbell marshals evidence from three decades of research to expose the martyrdom of thousands of clergy of the venerable Ethiopian Church, the burning and looting of hundreds of Ethiopia's ancient monasteries and churches, and the instigation and arming of a jihad against Ethiopian Christendom, the likes of which had not been seen since the Middle Ages.

Finally, Holy War traces how, after Italy's surrender to the Allies, the horrors of this pogrom were swept under the carpet of history, and the leading culprits put on the road to sainthood.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Changes in Eastern European Christianity Since 1980

This book won't be out until December, and it's a Festschrift--the mileage of which always varies--but still it looks both interesting in itself and also to be one of a series of books released in the last year or so on the interactions of secular-spiritual liberal-conservative dynamics in churches: Liberals, Conservatives, and Mavericks: On Christian Churches of Eastern Europe since 1980. A Festschrift for Sabrina P. Ramet, eds. Frank Cibulka and Zachary T. Irwin (Central European University Press, 2022), 370pp. About this book the publisher tells us this: 

No Church is monolithic―this is the preliminary premise of this volume on the public place of religion in a representative number of post-communist countries. The studies confirm that within any religious organization we can expect to find fissures, factions, theological or ideological quarrels, and perhaps even competing interest groups, such as missionary workers, regular clergy versus secular clergy, and sometimes even competing ecclesiastical hierarchies. The main focus of the book rests on the divisions arising within select Christian Churches, as they confront the processes of secularization and atheization. The coverage area includes Russia and the Ukraine, East-Central Europe and South-Eastern Europe. Some chapters focus on individual clergy who challenge the mainstream of their given Church either from a more liberal or from a more conservative perspective, while others deal with the divisive forces impacting the religious organizations.

This festschrift to honor Sabrina Ramet's seminal contribution to the study of religion in the politics of the communist and post-communist world, brings together several generations of scholars from a variety of countries, both those well established in their fields of study as well as young promising academics.

Wednesday, May 11, 2022

Ottoman Beginnings

Ottoman imperial history remains utterly fascinating to me, though my interests tend to focus on the sunset of empire rather than, as with this book set for release next week, its origins and early life. But about that latter phase we will soon be learning a lot more thank to The Beginnings of the Ottoman Empire by Clive Foss  (Oxford University Press, 2022), 288pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this: 

The Ottoman Empire ruled the near East, dominated the Mediterranean, and terrorized Europe for centuries. However, its origins are obscure. The Beginnings of the Ottoman Empire illuminates the founding of the Empire, drawing on Turkish, Greek, Arabic, and Latin sources as well as coins, buildings, and topographic evidence. Clive Foss takes the reader through the rugged homeland of Osman, the founder of the Ottomans, placing his achievement in the context of his more powerful neighbours, most notably the once mighty Byzantine Empire, then in the terminal stages of its decline. Foss then charts the progress of Osman's son Orhan, until the fateful moment in 1354 when his forces crossed into Europe and began their spectacular conquests.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Symeon Atop His Pillar in Late Antique Antioch

When a young boy more than a decade ago my oldest son was fascinated with the concept that a man could live atop a pillar. So I have always kept an eye out for new studies on the paradigmatic example of such living, who is treated in a new book by Lucy Parker, Symeon Stylites the Younger and Late Antique Antioch: From Hagiography to History (Oxford University Press, October 2022), 288pp.

About this book the publisher tells us this:

Symeon Stylites the Younger and Late Antique Antioch: From Hagiography to History is a study of the authority of the holy man and its limits in times of crisis. Lucy Parker investigates the tensions that emerged when increasingly ambitious claims about the powers of holy men came into conflict with undeniable evidence of their failures, and explores how holy men and their supporters responded to this. The work takes as its central figure Symeon Stylites the Younger (c.521-592), who, from his vantage point on a column on a mountain close to Antioch, witnessed a period of exceptional turbulence in the local area, which, in the sixth century, experienced plague, earthquakes, and Persian invasion. Through an examination of Symeon's own writings, as well as his hagiographic biography, it reveals that the stylite was a divisive figure who played upon social tensions and upon culturally sensitive areas such as paganism to carve out a role for himself as prophet and spiritual authority in the face of considerable opposition. It sets Symeon's life and cult in the context of Antioch and eastern Roman society, offering a new perspective on the state of the empire in the period before the rise of Islam. It argues that hagiography is an exceptionally rich source for the historian, offering insights into debates and tensions which reached to the heart of Christianity.

Friday, May 6, 2022

On Gaining Incomprehensible Certainty, Ambivalently

The Christian East has abounded in images, and celebrates them annually on more than one occasion. But what is an icon exactly? What does it mean to see? How can we see some things and yet be blind to others? Can some see what others regard as beyond sight, beyond materiality itself? Can one see spiritual realities? Can God be seen?

These and other questions are taken up in a thick new tome coming out next month: Thomas Pfau, Incomprehensible Certainty: Metaphysics and Hermeneutics of the Image (University of Notre Dame Press, June 2022), 811pp. 

About this book the publisher crows thus:

Thomas Pfau’s study of images and visual experience is a tour de force linking Platonic metaphysics to modern phenomenology and probing literary, philosophical, and theological accounts of visual experience from Plato to Rilke.

Incomprehensible Certainty presents a sustained reflection on the nature of images and the phenomenology of visual experience. Taking the “image” (eikōn) as the essential medium of art and literature and as foundational for the intuitive ways in which we make contact with our “lifeworld,” Thomas Pfau draws in equal measure on Platonic metaphysics and modern phenomenology to advance a series of interlocking claims. First, Pfau shows that, beginning with Plato’s later dialogues, being and appearance came to be understood as ontologically distinct from (but no longer opposed to) one another. Second, in contrast to the idol that is typically gazed at and visually consumed as an object of desire, this study positions the image as a medium whose intrinsic abundance and excess reveal to us its metaphysical function—namely, as the visible analogue of an invisible, numinous reality. Finally, the interpretations unfolded in this book (from Plato, Plotinus, Pseudo-Dionysius, John Damascene via Bernard of Clairvaux, Bonaventure, Julian of Norwich, and Nicholas of Cusa to modern writers and artists such as Goethe, Ruskin, Turner, Hopkins, Cézanne, and Rilke) affirm the essential complementarity of image and word, visual intuition and hermeneutic practice, in theology, philosophy, and literature. Like Pfau’s previous book Minding the Modern, Incomprehensible Certainty is a major work. With over fifty illustrations, the book will interest students and scholars of philosophy, theology, literature, and art history.

Wednesday, May 4, 2022

Narrating Martyrdom

The hardback having been out for nearly two years, a more affordable paperback version is coming later this year of Anne P. Alwis, Narrating Martyrdom: Rewriting Late-Antique Virgin Martyrs in Byzantium (Liverpool University Press, Sept. 2022), 224pp. 

Part of that excellent series, Translated Texts for Byzantinists, this book, the publisher tells us, 

reconceives the rewriting of Byzantine hagiography between the eighth and fourteenth centuries as a skilful initiative in communication and creative freedom, and as a form of authorship. Three men - Makarios (late C13th-C14th), a monk; Constantine Akropolites (d.c.1324), a statesman; and an Anonymous educated wordsmith (c. C9th - each opted to rewrite the martyrdom of a female virgin saint who suffered and died centuries earlier. Their adaptations, respectively, were of St. Ia of Persia (modern-day Iran), St. Horaiozele of Constantinople, and St. Tatiana of Rome. Ia is described as a victim of the persecutions of the Persian Shahanshah, Shapur II (309-79 C.E), Horaiozele was allegedly a disciple of St Andrew and killed anachronistically under the emperor Decius (249-51 C.E), and Tatiana, we are told, was a deaconess, martyred during the reign of emperor Alexander Severus (222-35 C.E). Makarios, Akropolites, and the Anonymous knowingly tailored their compositions to influence an audience and to foster their individual interests. The implications arising from these studies are far-reaching: this monograph considers the agency of the hagiographer, the instrumental use of the authorial persona and its impact on the audience, and hagiography as a layered discourse. The book also provides the first translations and commentaries of the martyrdoms of these virgin martyrs.

Monday, May 2, 2022

The Oxford Handbook of Origen

In the dozen years this wee blog has been going, there has never been a year, I don't think, without one or more significant publications devoted to Origen appearing. So 2022 will be no different in that regard as we see the publication later this month of The Oxford Handbook of Origen, eds. Ronald E. Heine and Karen Jo Torjesen (Oxford UP, 2022), 624pp.

This hefty collection includes numerous prominent scholars including, among the Orthodox, John McGuckin and and Andrew Louth.

About this book the publisher tells us this:

This interrogation of Origen's legacy for the 21st Century returns to old questions built upon each other over eighteen centuries of Origen scholarship-problems of translation and transmission, positioning Origen in the histories of philosophy, theology, and orthodoxy, and defining his philological and exegetical programmes. The essays probe the more reliable sources for Origen's thought by those who received his legacy and built on it. They focus on understanding how Origen's legacy was adopted, transformed and transmitted looking at key figures from the fourth century through the Reformation. A section on modern contributions to the understanding of Origen embraces the foundational contributions of Huet, the twentieth century movement to rehabilitate Origen from his status as a heterodox teacher, and finally, the identification in 2012 of twenty-nine anonymous homilies on the Psalms in a codex in Munich as homilies of Origen.

Equally important has been the investigation of Origen's historical, cultural, and intellectual context. These studies track the processes of appropriation, assimilation and transformation in the formation and transmission of Origen's legacy. Origen worked at interpreting Scripture throughout his life. There are essays addressing general issues of hermeneutics and his treatment of groups of books from the Biblical canon in commentaries and homilies. Key points of his theology are also addressed in essays that give attention to the fluid environment in which Origen developed his theology. These essays open important paths for students of Origen in the 21st century.

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