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The Journal of Late Antique Religion and Culture

Volume 1, 2007

Josef Lössl

Poets, Prophets, Critics, and Exegetes in Classical and Biblical Antiquity, and Early Christianity

Abstract: Already in Antiquity poetry used to be seen as originating from divinely inspired ecstatic prophecy. The earliest Biblical prophets too were celebrated poets. But when the poetic tradition was fixed in writing, a more ‘rationalistic’ force seems to have taken over. The works of prophetic poets, results of divine ecstasy, were now exposed to the rather un-ecstatic looking methods and techniques of exegetes and critics. However, this article argues that critics and exegetes were from earliest times onwards aware of this connection, and down to the Christian exegetes of Late Antiquity traditional (‘Classical’) concepts and techniques were being used to explain the role of prophetic ecstasy in the production of poetry, prophecy, and other literature considered to be divinely inspired. As a consequence an unbroken tradition exists between the earliest written documents of western literature and their archaic (‘shamanic’) sources (be they Classical or Biblical) and the literary-religious experience of late-antique Christian authors and exegetes.

Max Deeg

The Rhetoric of Antiquity: Politico-Religious Propaganda in the Nestorian Stele of
Chang'an 安長

This article proposes a new reading of the Nestorian stele of Chang’an, a Christian monument from the ancient Chinese capital dating from the eighth century AD, which covers the history of Nestorianism in China from its introduction in 635 to the date of its erection. Since its (re-) discovery by western missionaries in the 17th century this document has been repeatedly translated and studied as a witness for an early Christian presence in China, also with a view to legitimise Christian missionary activity in China. In turn its authenticity was called in question by enlightenment critics like Voltaire. This article acknowledges the authenticity of the document but points out that the content of the stele cannot be understood narrowly from a western ‘History of Christianity’ angle. Rather, it must be seen as a Chinese religious document with its own specific rhetoric using official terminology and concepts recognisable in the context of mainstream imperial religious policy. A significant insight in this context is that many of the Chinese concepts used in the stele to explain Christian teaching are not originally Christian, but were previously related to other religions, including Buddhism and Zoroastrianism.

Alberto Quiroga

Sophistopolis to Episcopolis: The Case for a Third Sophistic

Abstract: The term ‘Second Sophistic’ was already coined in Antiquity to denote a movement of literary and cultural renewal in the Greek and Hellenistic world during the first two centuries AD. The expression was not wholly complimentary; for whereas the ‘First Sophistic’ was seen to have been primarily concerned with more ‘serious’ topics like philosophy and politics, the ‘Second Sophistic’ was more interested in culture and ‘the arts’. Up until fairly recently modern scholarship too treated this as a negative feature and considered the monuments of the Second Sophistic to be un-original and decadent. But more recent scholarship has a more positive view of the achievements of the Second Sophistic, and the movement is now becoming more and more appreciated as one of the great cultural renaissances in Antiquity. At the same time the question has been raised whether the movement of renewal in the fourth and fifth centuries, linked in part with the rise of Christian literature and a ‘pagan’ reaction to it (including authors like Libanius, Themistius, Julian, Himerius, John Chrysostom and Synesius), could be termed a ‘Third Sophistic’. This article discusses some recent literature on this topic and argues for a new approach to the question.

[To view or download a full text version of these articles click on the links on the right at the top of this page. In order to get a correct view of the files, in particular those using Chinese letters, you should view them using a version of Adobe Acrobat Reader 5.0 or later (available as a free download from Adobe).]