Shifting Frontiers

Myöhäisantiikin tutkijoiden kokoontuminen Shifting Frontiers in Late Antiquity järjestetään 12. kerran, tällä viikolla Yalen yliopistossa. Teemana on 400-luku. Siinä onkin liikkumavaraa moneen suuntaan, ja esitelmiä on arkeologiasta, sotahistoriasta, sosiaalihistoriasta, uskonnoista, politiikasta, taloudesta ja oikeushistoriasta. Luvassa on pohdintoja mm. orjuudesta, etnisistä ryhmistä, kristillistymisestä ja valtakunnan länsiosan pirstoutumisesta.

Omassa esitelmässä käsittelen uskonnollisten käytäntöjen muuttumista ja erityisesti sitä, miten perinteisille uhrausrituaaleille mahtoi käydä 400-luvulla. Abstrakti tässä:

Shifting Sacrifices? Fifth-century Developments in Ritual Life

In La fin du sacrifice (2005), Guy Stroumsa analyses the transformation of religious ideas and practices in ancient religious systems. One of the great changes was the end of public animal sacrifices and the development of other practices. Stroumsa has explained the end of sacrifice as stemming from the shifts after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE. According to Stroumsa, following the Jewish abandonment of sacrifices eventually had an impact on a gradually decreasing significance of sacrifice in polytheistic and Christian communities as well.

Whatever the reasons for the end of public sacrifices were, my presentation will focus on the developments of ritual life in the fifth century. Even though public sacrifices in the cities seem to have ended by the early fifth century, private sacrificial rituals are attested to have continued, particularly in the countryside, as late as the ninth century – regardless prohibitions both in imperial legislation and church conciliar canons.

My starting point is the description rituals performed in honour of Saint Felix by Paulinus of Nola Felix in carmen 20 (in 407). Were the rituals described by Paulinus sacrifices or ritual slaughters? The Christianization of animal sacrifice has been under some scholarly dispute: it is debated whether the ritual slaughter in honour of Christian saints is to be regarded as animal sacrifice. Dennis Trout (JECS 3, 1995) interprets these rituals as a continuation of local sacrifices modified into a creative compromise while Cristiano Grottanelli (‘Tuer des animaux pour la fête de Saint Felix’, in La cuisine et l’autel, 2005) regards them as slaughters conducted into proper Christian behaviour by Christian leaders.

In my presentation, I will analyse several Christian variants of sacrifices, ritual slaughters, or whatever term we want to use, in Western and Eastern Mediterranean area. As we can deduct from the prohibitions and reinterpretations, the theme of sacrifice was significantly present in the late antique religious world. My material includes fourth-century bishops, imperial legislation, and ecclesiastical canons.

Kim Bowes (JECS 15, 2007) criticizes the earlier scholarship for postulating over-functionalistic interpretation of the Christianization of countryside: in these interpretations, ‘pagan’ practices were neatly replaced by Christian rituals because the functions in rural communities led clerics and bishops to make compromises with their congregations. While attempting to avoid the trap of over-functionalist interpretations, I will ask what expectations local populations had. Local population probably invested the rituals with different meanings than the ecclesiastical elite. This can be seen in the case of Paulinus and his Nolan congregation: rituals fulfilled certain rural communal life needs and it also fulfilled the expectations of Paulinus, the church leader. Therefore, I suggest to shift the perspective from the complaining, condescending or compromising church leaders towards the analysis of rural communities themselves. I will explore fifth-century rituals as creative applications of local populations.

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