This was a nice, short 100-page overview of the subject of magic in the Roman Empire among Jews, Christians, and pagans from 0-300 CE. It is written p...moreThis was a nice, short 100-page overview of the subject of magic in the Roman Empire among Jews, Christians, and pagans from 0-300 CE. It is written pretty readably and had good footnotes with lots of interesting additional information. Janowitz seems very up on all the latest hip new research, without yet ever getting really bogged down with horrid postmodernist academic jargon that can make wading through academic books so torturous sometimes. She does cite happily to all kinds of scholarship and theory, from venerable conservative scholars like Gerschom Scholem and Peter Schaefer to more daring thinkers like Daniel Boyarin and theories about performative language.
A major point Janowitz makes is that the term magic has historically always been a very subjective one - one person's religious practice is another person's magical practice.
Some really amazing and fascinating details to be found here, though, like the chapter on a Jewish woman named Maria who may have lived in first-century Alexandria and was kind of a proto-scientific pioneer in experimenting with metals for alchemististic purposes. I envision her as a kind of ancient Marie Curie. Fun!
My one quibble is that I didn't love the system for citing to the references ... for me the easiest system to navigate has always been the old-fashioned one where the notes are on the bottom of the page below the text they refer to, and all the information on the work is right there along with the substance of the note. I guess modern editors see this as too cumbersome and bulky, so instead the social sciences citation system is used, where you have to flip to the back of the book and hunt down the endnote. And then the endnote only gives you the authors last name and the date, so if you want to see what's actually being referred to, you have to flip through more pages to find the bibliography and match up the name and date. I find it incredibly aggravating to have to flip around so much to find references.(less)
This is essentially a modern retelling of Josephus's biography and his role in the history of the Jewish War that led to the destruction of the Second...moreThis is essentially a modern retelling of Josephus's biography and his role in the history of the Jewish War that led to the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem in 70 C.E. It's a pretty readable account written in a journalistic style and aimed at the general reader. The material it covers is fascinating without a doubt, and since I've never read Josephus straight, it was full of surprises for me.
I'm always searching for history books that are both rigorous from a scholarly standpoint and well-written enough to be accessible and enjoyable to non-scholars. This book succeeded on the latter end, but less so on the former, since it didn't strike me as particularly rigorous. The author made some quite interesting-sounding assertions that weren't footnoted - for example (if I recall correctly) there was a statement to the effect that actual Jewish religious practice in first century Judaea was quite varied and pretty much left up to the individual to decide. Things that seemed kind of significant for the author to just assert without offering further references or support - and the paucity of footnotes was occasionally frustrating to me.
That said, I can certainly recommend it just as an interesting and accessible book on a hugely important historical subject.(less)
Scholarly, but for the persevering reader, excellent for getting a clearer view of the earliest Christian sects, and how and when they gradually grew...moreScholarly, but for the persevering reader, excellent for getting a clearer view of the earliest Christian sects, and how and when they gradually grew apart from their origins in Judaism.(less)
A hard-to-categorize book; what do you call quasi-historical allegorical theist semi-fantastical adult fiction? This is C.S. Lewis's inimitable retell...moreA hard-to-categorize book; what do you call quasi-historical allegorical theist semi-fantastical adult fiction? This is C.S. Lewis's inimitable retelling of the Greek myth of Eros and Psyche - where a beautiful bride is married to a mysterious husband who forbids her ever to see his face. Half way through this, I realized I'd already read it, so many years ago I'd forgotten I had. Some of the same passages still resonated with me, but this time around, something that stuck out for me was how spare and fairy-tale-like the narrative style is; it really does read far more like some medieval or ancient allegory than a modern novel. Also, having done quite a bit of thinking about religion (and ultimately rejected religion) since I read it, the theist message hit me over the head like a two-by-four. It comes most intensely during the scenes where Psyche's sister Orual - the protagonist of the narrative - visits her for the first time after she's been left for the god of the mountain to devour, and the point seems to be: all the mystery surrounding God has important purposes, even if we don't know what they are; and: religious experience can never be understood from the outside (which I can still very much recognize as an important truth, even being on the outside now myself). Something that impressed me in Lewis's approach is that when Orual mourns that her choice not to believe felt inevitable, something she had no real choice in, Lewis seems to acknowledge that some of us can't simply choose to believe what seems untrue and fantastical, and that if we're ultimately punished for it by "the gods," the punishment isn't particular just. (Though in the end, his gods turn out to be merciful even to Orual the unbeliever.)(less)
Solid, erudite scholarship. The breadth of Lopez-Ruiz's knowledge of ancient languages and cultures, including Greek, Hebrew, Phoenician, and Ugaritic...moreSolid, erudite scholarship. The breadth of Lopez-Ruiz's knowledge of ancient languages and cultures, including Greek, Hebrew, Phoenician, and Ugaritic allows her to draw connections between mythic themes and tropes that more narrowly educated classicists or semitists might miss. It also allows her to construct a wholistic and balanced picture of syncretic cultural, religious, and mythological exchange in the Ancient Mediterranean World.(less)