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Customer reviews

5.0 out of 5 stars

on January 29, 2011
This is a first-rate bit of scholarly writing which goes beyond particulars and delves into an examination of basic principles; in this case, the question of when is it possible to conclude that one religious movement grew out of or was derived from another? As Smith says, resemblance is not geneology: just because two religions share some traits, it doesn't mean one was derived from the other. He presents a thorough discussion of the approaches taken by scholars in the past, relentlessly critiques them, and provides guidelines which are useful even for the general reader who's dipping into the world of the history of religion.

I was surprised by Smith's discussion of Thomas Jefferson in the first chapter. I didn't even know there had been a controversy in Jefferson's day over the origins of the Church, in which the Protestants were accusing the Catholic Church of having coopted pagan ritual, thereby diverting the Church from Christianity in its primal, simple form (conveniently resembling Protestantism). My only reference for the debate over paganism in early Christianity has been the claims of neo-pagans that Christianity is mostly based on pagan religion. But Smith's discussion is very valuable for that debate as well because it goes to the issue of basic principles of religious archeological analysis, giving a the reader a lodestar for guidance no matter what the particular debate at hand.

He ultimately concludes that neither Christianity nor pagan religions evolved from each other but they developed in a setting in which a number of religions were simultaneously evolving toward a belief in resurrection. Interesting reading.
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on June 5, 2004
In the book Drudgery Divine, J. Z. Smith portrays Christianity and mystery religions in their late-antique phase as similar simultaneous parallel developments. He emphasizes diversity in all the religions, against the monolithic assumption that underlies the usual project of comparing "the" Jewish religion, "the" Christian religion, and "the" Pagan type of religion.
Drudgery Divine is an expose of the biased and flawed nature of the Protestant, anti-Catholic project of portraying early Christianity as completely non-Catholic, non-ritualist, and non-initiatory. This Protestant scholarly project was based on illegitimate approaches to comparison of early, pre-Catholic Christianity to the pagan/Hellenistic religions.
The Protestant project sought to portray Christianity as far from ritual and initiation and mystery-religion as possible, and implicitly equated Catholic practices with Hellenistic ritual, initiation, and mystery, arguing that because pure, original Christianity was not at all like Hellenistic religion, original Christianity was not at all like Catholic Christianity.
According to the Protestant scholars, original Christianity was completely unlike Catholic Christianity, being strictly a matter of revealed, not secret religion; being strictly a matter of straightforward rational ethics, not initiation and ritual; being strictly a matter of sermon study-lectures, not magic-like ritual practices; being strictly a matter of doctrinal principles of pure faith, not ritual activity.
Insofar as the older Jewish religion could be portrayed as unlike Hellenistic secret ritual initiation, the Protestant scholars emphasized that real, original Christianity derived purely and strictly from the Jewish religion, as opposed to having anything to do with pagan/Hellenistic (read 'Catholic') secret ritual initiation.
According to those Protestant scholars, the word 'mysterion' in Jewish writings has only one meaning to consider, and this meaning is purely secular, and simply connotes 'secret', and does not connote secret ritual initiation -- therefore, the use of the word 'mysterion' in original (which is to say, non-Catholic) Christianity had nothing to do with Hellenistic-type (read 'Catholic-type') secret ritual initiation.
Smith's book does not serve the purpose of putting forth an elaborated correct positive model of the nature of earliest Christianities. Its focused purpose is to sweep away the bunk, biased, covert project driven by anti-Catholic concerns, to enable the next generation of scholars to completely re-approach the question of the relationship of early Christianity to Hellenistic religion, including an adequate treatment of multiplicity within Christianity and within the other religions, and development over time.
He points out that some kinds of Christianity were similar to some kinds of Hellenistic religion.
One of many tenets of the Protestant project of comparing original Christianity/Jewish religion against Hellenistic/Catholic religion, Smith briefly points out, is the idea that the Jewish religion was completely unlike secret ritual initiation.
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VINE VOICEon February 25, 2014
Smith argues, in this short, fierce book, that "The origins of the question of Christian origins takes us back, persistently, to the same point: Protestant anti-Catholic apologetics...the characteristics attributed to 'Popery' by the Reformation and post Reformation controversialists, have been transferred, wholesale, to the religions of Late Antiquity ...ritual as ex opere operato" (p 34).

Protestants have clung to the idea of a pristine early Christianity, 'which suffered later 'corruptions' (p 43). They argue that early Christianity was Protestant, but by the third century and after, mystery cults attached like barnacles onto the church.

One example would be Hatch, who proclaimed the Sermon on the Mount belonged to the Judaic world, and the Nicene Creed to the world of Greek philosophers. "The former is concerned with 'ethics'. the ;latter with 'doctrine'" ( 60).

Much of the research and debate focused around 'mysterion', a word found rarely in the Old Testament, and also rarely in the New. Smith quotes Brown: "Parallels in thought and vocabulary in the OT...demonstrate that the NT writers, particularly Paul, had all the raw material they needed for the use of 'mystery' in this background, without venturing into the pagan religions" (p 80).

The old History of Religions school had died a long, protracted death by about 1950. But that has not stopped authors - none of them scholars and seemingly none of them very well read - about dying-and-rising gods. Gunter Wagner, Yamouchi, etc. published books showing exactly where these authors went wrong. But alas. Few people read books by actual scholars.

However, quickly: "the majority of the gods so denoted appear to have died but not returned; there is death but no rebirth or resurrection....There has never been a claim for the rising of hint of rebirth....In the case of Attis...reconstructed Cybele-ritual which can be shown to be mistaken...the Day of Joy is a late addition...." (pp 101-2).

Very little in early Christianity appears to have focused on death; the catacombs are full of art depicting "the lamb, the anchor, the vase, the dove, the boat, the olive branch, the Orante, the palm, bread, the Good Shepherd, fish vine and grapes" (p 130).

In almost all cases, therefore, the claim that dying and rising gods were the most primitive, the earliest, layer, turned out to be, time after time, completely wrong. All the myths were "exceedingly late third or fourth century development in the myths and rituals of these deities" (p 103).

Bitter pill for the current crop of Jesus-is-just-another-dying-and-rising god these pagan cults "borrowed from Christianity" (p 104), not the other way around.

And, of course, none of these gods could claim that have arrived in historical time.

Jesus was not a vegetative myth. "Early Christianity appears as a relentlessly locative" (p 130) belief, set in historical time in a place well known, and verifiable by witnesses.
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