"Unless he competes professionally": Agonism and cultural production among Christians and Jews in the Roman world

Allan T Georgia, Fordham University

Abstract

The social landscape of the early Roman Empire comprised a competitive cultural field in which intellectuals, sophists, philosophers and other aspiring elites used conversance with the Greek language, art and literature in order to win legitimacy. This world-spanning state of affairs fostered a dynamic medium of exchange in which Greek paideia (i.e., education in Greek culture and the attribute of cultural Greekness) was a widely traded cultural currency among Roman subjects. In this context, I argue that early Christian and Jewish communities sought to win social legitimacy by trading in paideia and presenting themselves in the various guises that derived from Greek culture. This competitive cultural context ensured that these communities would devise strategies that entangled them with the competitive cultural dimensions of Greekness in the Roman Imperial milieu. In a series of readings, I consider the figure of Paul in the Acts of the Apostles and the Pastoral Epistles, 4 Maccabees, the characterization of Justin and Trypho in the frame narrative of Justin's Dialogue, and Tatian's invective Against the Greeks as competitive moves to win legitimacy in a grand, many-player, cultural game. In contrast to models of passive cultural influence implied by the term "Hellenism", I present the case that the communities these texts represent were defined by a culture that was in part produced by their competitive efforts to win social legitimacy by claiming Greekness for themselves.^

Subject Area

Classical literature|Religious history|Biblical studies

Recommended Citation

Georgia, Allan T, ""Unless he competes professionally": Agonism and cultural production among Christians and Jews in the Roman world" (2016). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI10125232.
https://fordham.bepress.com/dissertations/AAI10125232

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