Topic for Year 37 (1999-2000):
Ethnicity, Regionalism and Religious Developments in Late Antique Egypt

Chairs: Kirsti Copeland and Ra'anan Abusch (Princeton University)

The Philadelphia Seminar on Christian Origins in its 37th year will address the themes of "Ethnicity, Regionalism and Religious Developments in Late Antique Egypt." The mass of surviving literary, material and documentary evidence for and about Greco-Roman Egypt enables scholars to produce local histories that focus on the social and economic context of religious developments. It is this local scope which makes it possible to pry apart the relationship between regional developments and the massive continuity that characterizes Egyptian culture well into the Roman period. Factors such as ethnicity, language, and religion operating at a local level can be correlated to the larger historical trajectories without being lost in generalizations about Egyptian or Late Antique civilization.

Religious affiliation and ethnicity in Egypt constitute overlapping frameworks of identity. Phenomena which uncomfortably carry the titles "Hellenistic Judaism," "Christianity," "Gnosticism," "Paganism" and "Magic" flourished alongside each other in Late Antique Egypt. The instability that characterizes this religious world complicates the task of delineating the historical developments of these competing traditions. By focusing on the interplay between religious development and contextualized social conditions, these sessions will explore the synchronic and diachronic continuities and discontinuities that exist along contested fault-lines in Late Antique Egypt.

The following "outside" speakers have been invited:

David Frankfurter from the University of New Hampshire will begin the series. His recent book, Religion in Roman Egypt, asks provocative questions about the development of Christianity in Egypt and the persistence of native religion both outside and inside of the Christian paradigm.

Roger Bagnall from Columbia University is one of the world's experts on the use and employment of documentary evidence for writing histories of the Greco-Roman world. His recent work, Egypt in Late Antiquity, builds a broadly based picture of life in Late Antique Egypt from the incomplete traces that have been left behind.

David Brakke has written on Athanasius and the Politics of Asceticism. He writes a history of Athanasius that describes how this bishop of Alexandria created the power structure of a Church that included both ascetics and married lay-folk. Brakke teaches at Indiana University.

Christopher Haas marries the social and physical contexts of the largest urban center of Egypt in his recent book Alexandria in Late Antiquity: Topography and Social Change. Haas is an associate professor of history at Villanova University.

Gedaliahu Stroumsa's first book,Another Seed: Studies in Gnostic Mythology, remains one of the most persuasive publications on connections between Gnosticism, Judaism and Christianity. Stroumsa, who teaches at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, will be visiting the Center for Advanced Judaic Studies at the University of Pennsylvania next year.

Sarah Johnston's work on the Greek Magical Papyri and on the Chaldean Oracles will help to frame a discussion not only of magic in Egypt, but also of Neoplatonic traditions. Johnston has written Hekate Soteira: A Study of Hekate's Roles in the Chaldean Oracles and Related Literature. She teaches at Ohio State University and will be visiting at Princeton this year.