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Pagan Monotheism in Late Antiquity

3 out of 5 stars 2 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199248018
ISBN-10: 019924801X
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Editorial Reviews

Review

`Review from previous edition ... essential reading to any student of antiquity: patristic scholars and philosophers of God alike.' Journal of Early Christian Studies

`What this book demonstrates ... is the plain absurdity of equating paganism with polytheism. ... It will henceforth be the fundamental study of this difficult but fascinating subject.' Times Literary Supplement

`... sure to become a seminal work ... of interest to scholars, college students, and the general reader interested in theology.' History

Chosen by George Steiner as his best book of 2000 in the Times Literary Supplement

About the Author

Polymnia Athanassiadi is a Professor of Late Antique History, University of Athens. Michael Frede is a Professor of the History of Philosophy, and Fellow of Keble College, Oxford.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (January 10, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 019924801X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199248018
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.5 x 8.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,367,432 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Format: Paperback
This book has an intriguing thesis: that monotheism was not the exclusive property of Jews just before the advent of Christianity and as Christianity spread throughout the Roman Empire. In this group of essays, its authors explore how pagan groups successfully mastered the concept of ethical and religious monotheism in their pagan religions. Particularly illuminating are the essays "Towards Monotheism," and "Monotheism and Pagan Philosophy in Later Antiquity." Both essays throw into crisis the whole idea that there is an essential different between Hellenistic and Christian concepts of God and divine beings. It also shows how robust late paganism was, in contrast to the Christian notion that later paganism died because of its inherent moral and spiritual weakness.
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The various authors of this book do not produce one single Pagan source who proclaims "I have renounced the belief in many Gods". Going back to at least Homer (8th century BC or earlier) Pagans had been able to conceive of a "Supreme" God (ie, Zeus) - without in any way abandoning all the other Goddesses and Gods.

The authors of this book want us to believe that the more well educated, and especially the philosophically inclined, Pagans of late antiquity had completely abandoned polytheism. But no Pagan is more representative of this group than the 5th century Athenian philosopher Proclus. Proclus' biographer (his student Marinus) goes out of his way to list the various Goddesses and Gods that were most revered by Proclus: Pan, Cybele, Asclepius, and Hermes - among others. Another figure representative of late antique Paganism is, of course, Julian ("the Apostate") - whose biographer (Libanius) tells us that Julian was loved by the Gods - especially Zeus, Athena, Hermes, the Muses, Artemis and Ares.

There is no there there. There were no "pagan monotheists". No one can name even one person who fits that label among all the Pagans from late antiquity. It is really too bad for all those who have jumped on this faddish bandwagon that Pagans wrote extensively about their beliefs concerning religion. No amount of hand waving can explain away the explicitly polytheistic nature of Paganism - including most emphatically the philosophically inclined Paganism of late antiquity.

The most perverse thing about this book is that it puts forward the Orwellian argument that the philosophical Paganism of people like Julian and Proclus provides a "missing link" in the transition from Paganism to Christianity. In fact, and as all students of this period know full well, Julian and Proclus (etc) were the most determined opponents that Christianity faced!
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Pagan Monotheism in Late Antiquity
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