Christianity, Book-Burning and Censorship in Late Antiquity

9783110486070De Gruyter have sent along this for review.  It is comprised of seven substantive chapters:

  1. The Great Persecution, the Emperor Julian and Christian Reactions
  2. Fahrenheit AD 451 – Imperial Legislation and Public Authority
  3. Holy Men, Clerics and Ascetics
  4. Materialist Philosophy
  5. Moral Disapproval of Literary Genres
  6. Destruction of Libraries
  7. The Post-Roman Successor States

Everything is drawn together in the conclusion and readers are offered an introduction and the usual indices and bibliographies to round out the volume.

This is a fascinating study.  Rohmann has provided students of Christianity one of the most engaging studies I have yet read.  The topic is fascinating and the development of the subject is meticulous and wise.

But the most astonishing feature of the volume is the explanation of the historical events which gave rise to book burning among Christians.  It’s a fascinating practice and here we learn why it was done and to what end.  For example, did you know

….  that book-burning and censorship in ancient societies were in many ways different from a modern notion of these acts where they are often associated with a totalitarian state.

And

… in the early imperial period … book-burning served the purpose of conflict-management.

And

… it is worth noting that Christian authors describe philosophy as an ill body that is dying naturally. I suggest that the body-metaphor includes a polemical attack against materialist philosophies because these supported the preference of the body to the soul.

And

Monks, ascetics and holy men could burn books as part of a spectacle in order to destroy the demons by which they felt persecuted.

This book is literally packed with important historical details which fill in the gaps about an early Christian practice which raises eyebrows among those who may not know the whence and why of book burning.  It ought to be read by those with an interest in the intellectual history of the early Church and by those with a fondness for the peculiarities of some Christian practices.

By no means, though, should this volume be ‘burned’ on the woodpile of disinterest.  Tolle, lege!

About Jim

I am a Pastor, and Lecturer in Church History and Biblical Studies at Ming Hua Theological College.
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