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 [+-]
Groningen University
Steve Mason is Professor of Ancient Mediterranean Religions and Culture at Groningen University, the Netherlands. Until 2011, he was at Toronto’s York University, the last eight years holding the Canada Research Chair in Greco-Roman Cultural Interaction. From 2011 until 2015 he held the Kirby Laing Chair in New Testament and Early Christianity at the University of Aberdeen, U.K. A Fellow of the Royal Historical Society, he has held the Killam Research Fellowship and the Dirk Smilde Fellowship (Groningen), received a Humboldt Research Award (Berlin), and been Visiting Fellow in All Souls and Wolfson Colleges, Oxford. His books include Flavius Josephus on the Pharisees (Brill, 1991), Josephus and the New Testament (2nd edition, Hendrickson, 2003), Josephus, Judea, and Christian Origins: Methods and Categories (Hendrickson, 2009), The Jewish-Roman War, 66–74: A Historical Inquiry (Cambridge University Press, 2016), and Orientation to the History of Roman Judaea (Wipf & Stock, 2016). He is the editor of the international multi-volume series Flavius Josephus: Translation and Commentary, published by Brill, to which he has so far contributed the volumes Life of Josephus (2011) and Judean War 2 (2008).


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: 03 Aug 2020 doi: 10.1558/equinox.27962. May 2019

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