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Isis in the Ancient World Revised ed. Edition

4.1 out of 5 stars 9 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0801856426
ISBN-10: 0801856426
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Editorial Reviews

Review

Distinguished for its learning and its use of fascinating and little-known iconographic material... The importance of this study, both for the history of religions and of Graeco-Roman society, lies in the evidence, assembled and interpreted, of a widespread desire to worship a goddess who embodied maternal compassion and omnipotent wisdom.

(History Today)

This is in many ways a pioneering book by an author who knows how to use archaeological as well as literary evidence. It is an important contribution to an understanding of the religious attitudes of ordinary men and women who lived under the rule of the Caesars... [It is a ] well-written, well-planned, and finely illustrated work [that] contributes powerfully to our knowledge of significant aspects of the Graeco-Roman world.

(Times Literary Supplement)

Particularly stimulating is the attempt to assess the impact of the Isis cult on Christianity. Here Dr. Witt is able to deploy his wide knowledge of the religion of the Byzantine era and its sequel in Greek Orthodoxy, and he is also able to correct the severe underestimation of the moral appeal of the Isis cult which has hitherto prevailed among historians of Christianity.

(J. Gywn Griffiths Journal of Egyptian Archaeology)

From the Back Cover

This is the first study to document the extent and complexity of the cult's influence of Graeco-Roman and early Christian culture.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Johns Hopkins University Press; Revised ed. edition (June 17, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801856426
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801856426
  • Product Dimensions: 5.8 x 0.8 x 8.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #679,377 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
This book is extremely interesting if you have any questions about where Western religious traditions come from. This book clearly dispels the myth that the religion of Isis was merely some kind of fringe 'mystery cult'. It was instead the world religion of the Mediterranean before Christianity. Isis is not given enough credit by modern historians of religion. It was highly organized with its priesthood and liturgies. Abstinence from wine, porc and sex was required of priests for the sake of cleanliness. Bathing and ritual washing were performed several times a day. Hymns were sung at specified times; holy water from the Nile was sprinkled about; a baptism was performed when being initiated as a believer; Isis gave birth to Horus, who is really the earthly incarnation of the All-Father Osiris, on the 23rd of December, etc... Its evolution into/influence upon Christianity can be traced. In fact the dog-headed God Anubis is still worshipped as a saint on a Greek Island to this day; and the festival of Isis being carried to the sea-shore to bless the start of the sailing season, called the "Carrus Navalis" has turned into the "Carnival" that we see today all over the Mediterranean (a false etymology was thought up for it to explain it as the 'carne levare' when the original meaning for the celebration was forgotten). This book clearly shows how Christianity was hardly a rude intruder from an overlooked little corner of the world, and how it instead grew feeding upon the millennia of experience of Isis, first as official religion of Egypt under the pharaohs, and then extending to the entire Medditerranean and European worlds through the Ptolemies and through the Empire of Rome. In relgious anthropology, Isis is the 'missing link' between Christianity and paganism, proving that it was a very mild transition from the one to the other. I can hardly express how fascinating this book is.
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Format: Paperback
Witt's study of the Isis cult focuses primarily on her fame outside of Egypt, but his research is impeccable and always fascinating in its detail. Isis in Rome. Isis in Santorini. Isis in Gaul. Isis just about everywhere in the Mediterranean world. Witt does an excellent job when gathering information about her festivals, cult objects and practices, and her place in widespread popular piety as a precursor of the Vigin Mary figure. There's also info on the gods of Isis' Egyptian entourage--Osiris, Anubis, Horus, Nephthys--and their respective places in the cult outside Egypt. All in all, a marvelous and ample treatment of one of the ancient world's most influential and enduring religious traditions.
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Format: Paperback
This book is a reissue of Isis in the Graeco-Roman World from 1971. It may still be the most readable book to describe how the cult of Isis spread across the Mediterranean. Its writing style is a bit flowery and prone to digressions, but at least it's not clogged with jargon.

Unfortunately, the book doesn't much discuss a lot of the puzzling questions about the Isis cult, like what exactly her followers meant when they said Isis was the same as other goddesses like Artemis or Aphrodite (though, to be fair, today's scholars are still trying to puzzle that one out). It also tends to treat the evidence uncritically and to take as given some outdated assumptions about the Isis cult. Although it's hard to point to particular problematic sections, one example is the last chapter, where Witt indiscriminately lists just about every similarity and point of contact between Christianity and Isis worship. Many are, or may be, genuine points where one influenced the other, while others are pretty much irrelevant. Overall, this book feels subtly out of date, a product of a generation of scholars—Witt was born in 1910—who didn't grasp the Isis cult or Roman religion in general as well as today's experts do.

What's frustrating is that there's no comprehensive look at the Isis cult that's replaced this one. There have been two big waves of scholarship on Isis since Witt's book came out (the first in the 1970s and the second in the past 15 years), but most of what they've produced is not friendly to the lay reader. One of the exceptions is The Cult of Isis in the Roman Empire by Malcolm Drew Donalson, which is more up-to-date than Witt, though not as much as I'd like.
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Format: Paperback
This book is good as a research or academic book, not really as a book to sit down and read. It has amazing information and is incredibly well-researched and full of useful sources, but it is incredibly dry and can be boring at times. It wasn't what I thought it would be, but still worth the pruchase.
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Format: Paperback
The original title of the book is "Isis in the Greco-Roman World" which is a better suited title, however to say the book is about Isis is a stretch. If you are interested in learning about the worship, or mythology of Isis, you won't find it in this book. It is a random hodge podge of poorly crafted sentences about the impressions that pseudo historical figures have on Isis. A few examples of the technical writing issues: 1. referring to a scorpion as a reptile, 2. A 7-line sentence presented as a very poor example of a convoluted point, 3. Discussing several figures in a paragraph and concluding the paragraph with "the obvious importance of these 'two' figures "(I'm sorry, which "two"?). Overall it is poorly organized even within paragraphs, and a glossing over of details. Sadly, reading a Wikipedia page will give you far more accurate and concise information on the goddess Isis and the history of her worship and spread through the ancient world.
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