Tag Archives: late antiquity

Drudgery Divine

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Drudgery Divine: On the Comparison of Early Christianities and the Religions of Late Antiquity by Jonathan Z Smith.

Jonathan Z Smith Drudgery Divine

This fairly slim book consists of five lecture texts:

˙ “On the Origin of Origins” begins the discussion, using the Jefferson-Adams correspondence on religious topics as a point of departure. It also orients around the writings of Priestly and Dupuis, and pinpoints the question of Christian origins in “Protestant anti-Catholic apologetics.”

˙ “On Comparison” is a largely methodological piece, that incisively outlines the gambits of uniqueness and genealogy that have served the agendas of Protestant polemic and Christian supremacism in previous work on the topic.

˙ “On Comparing Words” discusses the philological arguments to date, and their subservience to theological efforts. Quite happily for me, Smith chose to use the term mysterion for illustrative purposes throughout this section. Among other things, I learned about the ancient Greek pun attributed by Athenaios to Dionysos Tyrannos: mysterion = mus terein, “mouseholes!” (p. 56 n)

˙ “On Comparing Stories” has a quick survey of “pagan Christs” literature, before focusing in on Frazer’s ‘dying and rising’ god motif, and its application to Christianity in the work of Pfleiderer; then a discussion of the problems of data for historically-oriented comparisons.

˙ “On Comparing Settings” applies all of the foregoing to the question of comparing early Christianities (note the significant plural!) to other religions of antiquity, also bringing in Smith’s locative/utopian distinction. Smith’s confessed appreciation for and dependence on the Christian origins work of Burton Mack is clearest in this section.

Smith writes, “The Protestant hegemony over the enterprise of comparing the religions of Late Antiquity and early Christianities has been an affair of mythic conception and ritual practice from the outset.” Aleister Crowley’s Gospel According to St. Bernard Shaw (a.k.a. Jesus sub figura 888) still deserves that same valuation, despite its opposition to the Protestant hegemony, as he was fighting fire with fire. It was not “a thorough revaluation of the purposes of comparison” in service to “the scholarly imagination of religion,” as Smith would prefer. But Crowley’s tack adds an additional dimension to the history of the enterprise, and for those who wish to soldier on in the mythic and ritual battlefields, Smith’s book is a stone that will sharpen any sword that can hold the edge. [via]

Esotericism and the Academy

Esotericism and the Academy: Rejected Knowledge in Western Culture by Wouter J Hanegraaff, from Cambridge University Press, previously only available as a 2012 hardcover, is due to release as a paperback tomorrow, March 6th, 2014.

Wouter J Hanegraaff Esotericism and the Academy from Cambridge University Press

“Academics tend to look on ‘esoteric’, ‘occult’ or ‘magical’ beliefs with contempt, but are usually ignorant about the religious and philosophical traditions to which these terms refer, or their relevance to intellectual history. Wouter Hanegraaff tells the neglected story of how intellectuals since the Renaissance have tried to come to terms with a cluster of ‘pagan’ ideas from late antiquity that challenged the foundations of biblical religion and Greek rationality. Expelled from the academy on the basis of Protestant and Enlightenment polemics, these traditions have come to be perceived as the Other by which academics define their identity to the present day. Hanegraaff grounds his discussion in a meticulous study of primary and secondary sources, taking the reader on an exciting intellectual voyage from the fifteenth century to the present day and asking what implications the forgotten history of exclusion has for established textbook narratives of religion, philosophy and science.” [via]

Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200-1336

Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200-1336 by Caroline Walker Bynum from Columbia University Press:

Caroline Walker Bynum's The Resurrection of the Body in Western Christianity, 200-1336 from Columbia University Press


Bynum seeks to explore antique and medieval ideas about embodiment through the medium of doctrines about resurrection, not vice versa. “[T]he basic conclusion…is that a concern for material and structural continuity showed remarkable persistence even where it seemed almost to require philosophical incoherence, theological equivocation, or aesthetic offensiveness.” (p. 11)

The title describes the book’s scope efficiently, although rather than coverage of a continuous development 200-1336 C.E., the chronological emphases are Late Antiquity (ca. 200 and ca. 400) and the High-to-Late Middle Ages (12th century and ca. 1300). There is a lacuna between Augustine and Peter Lombard. It is “not…a complete survey,” but instead explores particular junctures in which “bodily resurrection…was debated, challenged, reaffirmed and/or redefined.” (p. 22)

While the subject matter is essentially history of theology (a province within intellectual history), Bynum’s method incorporates cultural history, with an emphasis on visual culture and the critical apprehension of root metaphors. The theme and problems of embodiment (much in vogue in the 1990s) are central to the text.

It is an effective problematization of simultaneous distaste and need for the human body in the history of Western Christian culture. [via]



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The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and Spiritual Ordeal

You may be interested in The Hermetic Deleuze: Philosophy and Spiritual Ordeal (New Slant: Religion, Politics, Ontology), by Joshua Ramey from Duke University Press.

“Gilles Deleuze drew upon a vast array of source material in his writing, from philosophy and psychoanalysis to science and art. Among the intellectual currents that influenced his work, however, one has been largely neglected in Deleuze scholarship: Western esotericism, specifically the lineage of Hermetic thought that extends from Late Antiquity into the Renaissance through the work of such figures as Iamblichus, Nicholas of Cusa, Pico della Mirandola, and Giordano Bruno. In this book, Joshua Ramey examines the extent to which Deleuze’s ethics, metaphysics, and politics were informed by—and can only be fully understood through—this Hermetic tradition.

Ramey identifies key Hermetic moments in Deleuzian thought—including his theories of art, subjectivity, and immanence—arguing that Deleuze’s work represents a kind of contemporary Hermeticism, a consistent experiment to unite thought and affect, percept and concept, mind and nature in order to engender new relations between knowledge, power, and desire. In uncovering and clarifying the Hermetic strand in Deleuze’s work, Ramey offers both a new, cogent interpretation of Deleuze—particularly his insistence that the development of thought demands a spiritual ordeal—and a framework for retrieving the pre-Kantian paradigm of philosophy as spiritual practice.”