Monday, May 18, 2009

Book Review: Household and Family Religion in Antiquity

Scholia Reviews (Review by Mark Kirby-Hirst)

Scholia Reviews ns 18 (2009) 5.

John Bodel and Saul M. Olyan (edd.), Household and Family Religion in Antiquity. The Ancient World: Comparative Histories. Blackwell Publishing, 2008.

[Chapter 10 looks at Egypt]

Bodel and Olyan have succeeded in cobbling together a work that is fraught with problems and contradictions. This is due in no small part to the fact that, as the title of the book suggests, the object of their study is Household and Family Religion in Antiquity. The second half of their title provokes immediate uncertainty, with the word "Antiquity" loosely defining both the temporal and spatial parameters of the project, and thus shaping an extremely large area of inquiry with the broad notion of family religion as its only guide.[[1]] Indeed, definition is pointed to as a key concern throughout this book's fifteen chapters, specifically the definition of the concept of family religion itself, and this is a problem that every contributor grapples with for at least a portion of his or her allotted space. While this does make the point that family religion appears to be entirely mutable and is often moulded to its context, I do still feel that even a modicum of direction on the part of the editors (perhaps in the shape of a basic and general definition with which the individual contributors could wrestle) would have gone a long way toward establishing a more directed discussion from the contributing authors and perhaps even have created the possibility of more useful conclusions. I would have to identify this lack of worthwhile conclusions (not all of the book's papers suffer from this malady) and the aforementioned extensive scope of the work as being its major downfall. I should however note that the temporal and physical realm this book seeks to explore is also an asset, as it does provide readers with an inkling of just how multifaceted and rich in complexities the subject of family religion is. Despite its problems I would still tend to recommend the book as a worthy addition to the field of ancient religious studies and a good read for those interested in the subject.

See the above page for the entire chapter by chapter review.

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