Theorizing Religion in Antiquity - Nickolas P. Roubekas

Theorizing Religion in Antiquity - Nickolas P. Roubekas

2. Our Language and Theirs: "Religious" Categories and Identities

Theorizing Religion in Antiquity - Nickolas P. Roubekas

Steve Mason [+-]
University of Groningen
Steve Mason (BA, MA McMaster; PhD University of St Michael’s College, Toronto) is Professor of Ancient Mediterranean Religions and Cultures at the University of Groningen. He edits the international series, Flavius Josephus: Translation and Commentary (Brill, 2000–), to which he has also contributed Life of Josephus (2001) and Judean War 2 (2008); he is now working on Judean War 4. His first monograph was Flavius Josephus on the Pharisees (Brill, 1991); most recent are A History of the Jewish War, A.D. 66–74 (Cambridge UP, 2016) and Orientation to the History of Roman Judaea (Wipf & Stock, 2016).


Most of our historical evidence—whether literary, inscriptional, or numismatic— involves language. In order to understand it, we need to know something of how educated persons viewed their world and what categories they assumed in talking with each other. Beginning students of ancient history typically find themselves off balance in this area. They quickly realize that terms with more or less obvious meanings in English—history, democracy, state, country, city, empire, emperor, province, myth, religion, superstition, priest, philosophy, professional, law, police, army, general (as rank), economy, markets, social class, genre, geography, maps —bring with them a cart-load of connotations that are not valid for the Greek and Latin (or Hebrew or Aramaic) terms they translate. One-for-one translation of words from ancient agrarian cultures to those of our post-industrial, post-modern western democracies is bound to be hazardous. This is evident in the study of ‘ancient religion’ and begs for out attention. Before we explore the terms that are most commonly translated as ‘religion’, we must deal with a thorny issue that sparks debate and creates misunderstandings even among specialists, namely: the legitimacy and status of such “insider-language” research.

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Mason, Steve. 2. Our Language and Theirs: "Religious" Categories and Identities. Theorizing Religion in Antiquity. Equinox eBooks Publishing, United Kingdom. p. 11-31 May 2019. ISBN 9781781793572. Date accessed: 27 Feb 2021 doi: 10.1558/equinox.27962. May 2019

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