Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Review of Galinsky (ed.), Memory in Ancient Rome and Early Christianity

Karl Galinsky (ed.), Memory in Ancient Rome and Early Christianity. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press, 2016. Pp. xiv, 406. ISBN 9780198744764. $135.00.

Reviewed by Douglas Boin, Saint Louis University (boindr@slu.edu)
This book succeeds in telling a powerful story. In the course of thirteen chapters, as the set changes from the Rome of Sulla’s dictatorship to the period when power was consolidated in the hands of a single family and, later, to the seemingly polarizing world of Late Antiquity, readers are introduced to a repeating theme. At every stage of their history, many Romans were intensely working through their past. That observation might be taken as banal in books on Caesar, Cicero, and Octavian. But in a volume that engages with the story of early Christianity, it makes a provocative opening move. For what it suggests is that “Babylon” was much more than the evil empire many Christians have remembered it to be. Rome was always a work-in-progress, and the memory of where the empire had come from, where it was going, and what it might still be was an important part of the wider political conversation.
The book deals with matters indirectly or directly pertinent to ancient Judaism as well, such as the "false Nero" episodes, the "cityscape of Jerusalem" in the late first century CE, and the aftermath of the Bar Kokhba Revolt.