Friday, December 18, 2015

Review of Rüpke (ed.), Public and Private in Ancient Mediterranean Law and Religion

Clifford Ando, Jörg Rüpke (ed.), Public and Private in Ancient Mediterranean Law and Religion. Religionsgeschichtliche Versuche und Vorarbeiten vol. 65. Berlin, Munich, Boston: De Gruyter, 2015. Pp. viii, 255. ISBN 9783110371024. €99.95.

Reviewed by Anders Klostergaard Petersen, University of Aarhus (


Most contributions in this collection of essays originate from a conference held at the Max Weber Center of Erfurt. The collection arises from the cooperation between two internationally esteemed centers for the study of antiquity: the Center for the Study of Ancient Religion at the University of Chicago and the research group “Religious Individualization in Historical Perspective” under the auspices of the Max Weber Center. It is reasonable to have great expectations to a volume edited by two prolific scholars in the field, Clifford Ando and Jörg Rüpke, all the more so since the book is targeted on truly moot questions. The papers focus on the private-public binary in the context of Mediterranean antiquity in two correspondingly contested realms: law and religion.

In their introduction, the editors are keen to point out two a priori principles on which the book rests. First, they take the ideologically contingent nature pertaining to the private-public dualism, its definition and its salience, as an axiomatic point of departure. Second, they give emphasis to the fact that the concepts examined interact with equally charged notions of family, household, and the people as a political collective entity. These are lexemes with corollary phenomenological substantiation, an intrinsic part of the field under scrutiny, and, therefore, likely to exert influence on the manner in which the discussion is conducted at the third order level of analysis. To tackle these issues, the participants endeavor to create a historical comparative project meant to avoid the dangers of presentism. In the ancient context, the notions of public and private were, from the etic perspective, deeply ingrained, whereas in contemporary Western societies they have increasingly come to denote (semi-)autonomous realms.

Two of the essays deal with rabbinic evidence.