Drudgery Divine On the Comparison of Early Christianities and the Religions of Late Antiquity

ISBN-10: 0226763633

ISBN-13: 9780226763637

Edition: 1990

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In this major theoretical and methodological statement on the history of religions, Jonathan Z. Smith shows how convert apologetic agendas can dictate the course of comparative religious studies. As his example, Smith reviews four centuries of scholarship comparing early Christianities with religions of late Antiquity (especially the so-called mystery cults) and shows how this scholarship has been based upon an underlying Protestant-Catholic polemic. The result is a devastating critique of traditional New Testament scholarship, a redescription of early Christianities as religious traditions amenable to comparison, and a milestone in Smith's controversial approach to comparative religious studies. "An important book, and certainly one of the most significant in the career of Jonathan Z. Smith, whom one may venture to call the greatest pathologist in the history of religions. As in many precedent cases, Smith follows a standard procedure: he carefully selects his victim, and then dissects with artistic finesse and unequaled acumen. The operation is always necessary, and a deconstructor of Smith's caliber is hard to find."--Ioan P. Coulianu, Journal of Religion
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Book details

List price: $28.00
Copyright year: 1990
Publisher: University of Chicago Press
Publication date: 5/28/1994
Binding: Paperback
Pages: 160
Size: 5.75" wide x 8.50" long x 0.50" tall
Weight: 0.704

Jonathan Z. Smith is perhaps the leading theorist working in the study of religions today; he is also a scholar who specializes in Hellenistic and late Antique religions. Trained at Yale University, where he wrote a thesis examining the methods employed in James G. Frazer's mammoth classic, The Golden Bough, Smith has been particularly interested in using the ideas and methods of sociology and anthropology to study religions. Through unrelenting criticism and detailed historical investigations, he has called into question many of the conclusions that an older generation of scholars had reached. His acumen has been directed particularly at the work of Mircea Eliade, who was for years Smith's colleague at the University of Chicago. His recent book, Drudgery Divine, aims to expose the sectarian purposes that led Protestant historians to isolate "primitive Christianity" from its contexts in ancient religions, an expose that Smith's own background in Judaism makes him ideally suited to carry out. As a theorist, Smith emphasizes the active role of intellection in all scholarly enterprises. He insists that the aim of religious studies is distinct from that of religions ("map is not territory"), that "religion" is a category "imagined" by Western scholars to accomplish certain academic purposes, and that theoretical questions and purposes should explicitly guide all investigations. For example, Smith states that when scholars compare religions, their immediate concern should not be with finding similarities that pervade a large body of data (cp. Eliade), nor should it be to determine who borrowed what from whom (historical diffusion). Instead, the purpose of comparison is to identify individual differences that assume significance because they elucidate specific theoretical issues. Smith's distinction between locative religions---religions that pertain to specific places---and utopian ones---religions that have broken their bonds with place---is especially helpful in considering the history of religions in the Hellenistic and late Antique periods. Smith's work is itself too recent to have been the subject of a scholarly monograph, but readers will find Smith's influence extending widely through the study of ancient religions. Those who want critical assessments may wish to consult book review indexes.

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