Friday, November 25, 2016

Review of Rubina and Rüpke (eds.), A Companion to the Archaeology of Religion in the Ancient World

Rubina Raja, Jörg Rüpke (ed.), A Companion to the Archaeology of Religion in the Ancient World. Blackwell companions to the ancient world. Ancient history. Chichester; Malden, MA; Oxford: Wiley Blackwell, 2015. Pp. xiii, 502. ISBN 9781444350005. $195.00.

Reviewed by Anna Collar, Aarhus University (

[The Table of Contents is listed below.]

[Disclaimer: Anna Collar works as part of Troels Myrup Kristensen's 'Emergence of Sacred Travel' project in the same department as Rubina Raja.]

It is clear from their introduction what the editors set out to achieve in this collection of 35 essays: in line with their research agenda at Erfurt, "Lived Ancient Religion", their aim is to overturn the traditional bias towards the systematic and the dogmatic in the treatment of religion in antiquity, and focus instead on the material evidence that shaped the 'practices, expressions, and interactions' (p.4, p. 446) of religion as people experienced it in the past. While the editors acknowledge the virtual impossibility of understanding the specific cultural meanings of past religious behaviour, they posit that "lived ancient religion" offers a framework for describing the influences of philosophical and literary works alongside those of religious professionals, socialisation, social networks and performances in the construction of ancient religious context, and therefore for the reconstruction of situational meanings (fluid though these may be), from the evidence for religious practice as part of everyday life in antiquity. The focus on religion as it was experienced is strongly appealing; nevertheless, perhaps it is the job of a Companion to offer a more balanced picture of the ways religion in antiquity can be understood archaeologically (for example, the editors mention the cognitive approach, but have no place for this here). It is frustrating that, after a strong opening to the introduction, the editors cut and paste sections of the papers rather than offering a coherent analysis of their content.

That said, I found much of the book compelling and the quality of the essays generally excellent: there is, of course, not space enough for details, so I will go through the thematic sections, looking at the papers that prompt further reflection.

Ancient Judaism receives some attention in the book.