Friday, November 18, 2005

PSCO SESSION: Just got back from the PSCO session, so I may as well pull some (I hope) coherent thoughts from my notes. I reserve the right to correct typos (and errors!) and add a link or two and maybe even a photo when I have access to better Internet facilities.

The session was chaired by two Penn postgraduates, T. J. Wellman and Harry Tolley. A speaker had been planned but had to pull out, so it ended up being an informal discussion of David Frankfurter's paper. The main issue taken up was the perimeters of expertise in the category of "ritual expertise" in the light of David's taxonomy. What about holy people who even worked miracles but who di not have a reputation for ritual expertise (e.g. Honi the circle-drawer)? (Was circle-drawing a ritual?)

A key question was raised by Vasilika Limberis: How do holy people who had a reputation for ethical goodness (saints and other do-gooders)rather than ritual expertise fit into this category of ritual expert and how does this relate to the category of "holy man"?

For the most part I couldn't keep track of names, but here are some thouhts and responses that were raised in the discussion
  • The nature of the holy man depnds on specific and different themes emphasized by different communities.
  • The same actions can be interpreted differently by different worldviews.
  • The story in Luke in which someone who wasn't a disciple of Jesus but who was exorcizing demons in his name was brought in. Did this use of a new "technology" (Jesus' name) make him a ritual expert? David said that we really needed to know if the man was already an exorcist. If he then got the reputation of specializing in this particular praxis, then yes. Someone pointed out that Simon Magus went so far as to offer to pay for this new technology.
  • Bob asked if there is any example of an (exorcism?) formula that appeared with different names used for the deity invoked. "Son of David" and Jesus were mentioned, but I'm not sure how this fitted the question.
  • Different communities are going to define holiness differently.
  • The ritual functions as extending the holiness to others.
  • Are ritual specialists really holy men? Need they be? Does the term holy have taxonomic value.
  • What is the locus of similarity between ritual expertise and being an ethical exemplar? One suggestion was that both are people who have power, but not through the normal channels (e.g., government office; military position; being a bishop -- in a Christian context).
  • What about people who are holy but not powerful (Jerome's Life of Paul; Mary of Egypt -- ascetics who just lived out in the desert), who are efficacious only as religious figures? It was suggested that they did not count as ritual experts.
  • David suggested that Vasilika's holy person who had ethical goodness could be considered as a "saint" as distinct from a "ritual expert."
  • This raised the question of whether a saint who doesn't exercise power counts as a holy man. Posthumous miracles might be invoked to make up the difference.
  • How much is holiness based on the closeness of the figure to the god (Honi, Moses) rather than ritual expertise. David did not find the source of the power to be a useful taxonomic criterion.
  • There was a lot of discussion of the scribe in comparison to the ritual expert, but my notes are too confused to make sense of. If you took better notes, please e-mail me a summary.
  • I was curious whether David agreed with the position that magos and goes (i.e, baddy magicians or sorcerors) never actually existed but were just categories of accusation, especially given that some of the Greek Magical Papyri included highly socially deviant actions such as digging up dead bodies and cutting pieces from executed criminals. David said that the PGM were mainly literary texts and that we didn't have evidence of their ever being used (I had assumed it was taken for granted that they were practical manual, but evidently not.) Also, he suggested that aggressive spells do not necessarily require a specific category of ritual specialist for them. Others agreed that the evidence did not support people claiming to be these categories
  • If holiness is to be useful as a category, it cannot be tied to goodness.
  • There was some discussion of whether emic or etic perspectives were more useful in considering these questions. How much does it matter that the people we put together in some of our categories would stridently object to being associated with one another?
  • Bob asked if the ancient sources take the view that there were inherently good and bad powers that one could harness. David said that powers could be peripheral or ambiguous, but were rarely considered specifically evil.

Those are my notes. If you have better notes and want me to supplement what I've said, then e-mail me. If you think I've gotten something in the discussion wrong, please let me know how you recall it. If I have misunderstood something you've said, please let me know so I can correct it.

Thanks to everyone for a really interesting discussion

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