Topic for the Year 2005–2006:
“Redescribing the Holy Man:
Theoretical Frameworks and Specific Applications”

Chaired by T.J. Wellman (University of Pennsylvania)
and Harry Tolley (University of Pennsylvania)

Douglas Finkbeiner (University of Pennsylvania), Secretary

Whether Neoplatonic diadochai, Christian saints, Jewish rabbis, or the priests, healers, and prophets of the diverse local religious cultures of Late Antiquity, the methods and descriptions employed by modern scholars to make sense of these figures all speak of a shared imaginaire. Scholars of Christianity, Judaism, and other ancient Mediterranean traditions have embraced the Holy Man as an analytical type since it was introduced by Peter Brown in 1971. Recently, however, some theoretical studies have focused more closely on the various social roles performed by ritual experts in their communities, grounding the general type in more specific sub-types and social dynamics, and thereby pushing the academic community to a new stage of theoretical reflection and critique. Can the utility of the comparative taxon “Holy Man” be increased by refining the concept and, in some cases, employing a more thoroughly comparative method (between traditions, between individuals, between time periods, and between cultures)? It is our hope to use this year of PSCO to initiate an ongoing discussion involving scholars of early Christianity, scholars of early Judaism, and other students of late antiquity in an examination of the roles of these figures in the Greco-Roman world, and especially in early Judaism and Christianity, in order to further nuance the analytical concept of the Holy Man and increase its utility.