Friday, July 31, 2009

Book Review: Household and Family Religion in Antiquity

Bryn Mawr Classical Review (Reviewed by David Elton Gay)

John Bodel, Saul M. Olyan (ed.), Household and Family Religion in Antiquity. The Ancient World: Comparative Histories. Blackwell Pub. ISBN 9781405175791

Household and Family Religion in Antiquity is a volume of essays that grew out of a 2005 conference at Brown University. The purpose of the book and the conference, the editors explain in their introduction, is "to advance our understanding, both contextually and comparatively, of a distinct and widespread ancient religious phenomenon--household and family religion--within a number of discrete cultural and historical settings of Mediterranean and West Asian antiquity." (p. 1) To achieve this end the editors brought together a range of scholars to discuss "the phenomenon of household and family religion in a number of different cultural contexts: Second Millennium West Asia (Mesopotamia, Emar, Nuzi, Ugarit); First Millennium West Asia (including Israel); Egypt; Greece; and Rome." (p. 1)

On the positive side the essays, which range from relatively brief summaries like Barbara Lesko's "Household and Domestic Religion in Ancient Egypt" (pp. 197-209) to detailed surveys, like Rainer Albertz's "Family Religion in Ancient Israel" (pp. 89-112), are generally sound introductory statements of the current situation in their respective fields concerning the study of family and household religion. The essays all follow a similar format, which aids in making comparisons, and are accessible to both the non-specialist scholar and general reader. Though the editors do provide a comparative essay by way of conclusion, comparison is little used elsewhere: the primary focus of these essays is on case studies of the particular cultural group and time covered in the individual essay rather than on the comparative study of the materials.

That said, it must also be noted that the book could have been much more. The main problem with the book is its failure to address the previous literature on household and family religion.

See the above page for the full story.

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