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Review of Biblical Literature Blog

The Power of Sacrifice: Roman and Christian Discources in Conflict
Heyman, George

Washington, D.C.: Catholic University of America Press, 2007 pp. xxv + 256. $69.95

Description: In this work, Heyman offers a fresh perspective on the similarities between pagan Roman and Christian thinking about the public role of sacrifice in the first two and a half centuries of the Christian era. He shows that both imperial Rome and early Christianity capitalized on the rhetoric of sacrifice as a discursive means to craft their location, their identity, and their social power within the cosmos. Early Christian authors, like those responsible for the New Testament and other Christian literature, adopted this sacrificial discourse in order first to understand the death of Jesus and then later to valorize the deaths of the early martyrs. Heyman shows that such a discourse, however, was not unique to early Christianity. The sacrificial practices associated with the Roman imperial cult also established civic and national pride throughout the Empire. Because of their refusal to participate in the normal Roman civic sacrifices, Christians were perceived as a threat to the complex and fragile balance of power that existed between the gods and the state. The earliest Christians responded by crafting the death of Jesus in sacrificial rhetoric and exalting the spectacle of the martyr in imitation of the biblical Christ. Even though they refused to participate in Roman sacrifices, Christianity created its own social order through a novel formulation of sacrificial discourse. While many scholars have researched the discourse of the Roman imperial cult, none has included a comprehensive analysis of the impact of this discourse on early Christianity. This book offers a synthesis of contemporary theory and historical data, a novel approach to the power of sacrifice and conflict between Rome and early Christianity.

Subjects: Early Christian Literature, Literature, Methods, Historical Approaches, History, Greco-Roman Period

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Review by Giovanni Battista Bazzana
Published 4/11/2009
Citation: Giovanni Battista Bazzana, review of George Heyman, The Power of Sacrifice: Roman and Christian Discources in Conflict, Review of Biblical Literature [] (2009).

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