Sacrifice and Ethnicity: Ancient and Modern Intersections
Dr Philippa Townsend
Lecturer in Ancient Mediterranean Religions, University of Edinburgh
This seminar will take place in A02 Humanities if you're attending in-person.
If you wish to join online here is the MS Teams link to join on the day.
The concept of sacrifice has played a formative role in narratives about Christian innovation and distinctiveness. Traditionally, scholars and theologians have often claimed that early Christians either spiritualized or rejected sacrifice. However, more recent scholarship has challenged this view, showing that early Christian ideas about sacrifice were complex and diverse. Scholarship on Christian attitudes to race and ethnicity has followed a similar trajectory, moving from traditional narratives of Christian spiritualization or rejection to a more complicated picture of how Christians sometimes transformed, but did not abandon, ethnic self-definition. However, few scholars have explored the relationships between early Christian views on sacrifice and on ethnicity.
In this presentation, I give an overview of my forthcoming book, in which I argue that many of our early Christian sources evince strong discursive connections between ethnicity and sacrifice, which have so far remained underexplored. I argue that we can understand many of the innovative and distinctive ways in which sacrifice was conceptualized in this period as part of the process by which Christians, Jews, and others were negotiating their ethnic status within the context of the Roman Empire. Rather than interpreting early Christians’ texts about sacrifice in terms of rejection or spiritualization, I show how they were participating in a broader context, in which Jews, Christians, and others understood sacrifice as fundamental to the construction and maintenance of kinship groups, and more broadly, ethno-racial boundaries. Exploring ethnic and sacrificial discourses together, I argue that they are frequently interdependent in ancient texts - and sometimes in modern ones - and that analyzing their intersections gives us fresh insight into the ways in which Christians and others in the ancient Mediterranean world viewed themselves and their relationships to others.