Yearly Archives: 2013

Himyar kingdom and Bowersock’s Throne of Adulis

Posted by dianamuir on March 14, 2013
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G. W. Bowersock has written a  little book (in an Oxford series of short books about iconic objects) pegged to a sixth century monument in the form of a stone throne erected by an Axumite (Ethiopian) king in the ancient Red Sea port of Adulis.  The book is nominally about the politics of the Red sea region and Arabian peninsula in the period  shortly before the birth of Muhammad, but it is written in a way that make it appear that Bowerstock is still fighting the political battles of the sixth century, or making that century a pretext to put forward his views of twenty-first century politics.

The great powers of the period, the Zoroastrian Sassanian Empire of Persia and the Christian Byzantine  Empire were, as Bowersock has described them elsewhere, “Empires in Collision“, with all the messy wars, massacres, and refugee flows that such collisions entail.     The regional powers along the Red Sea were the Monophysite Christian Kingdom of Axum (modern Ethiopia), sometimes allied with the Byzantines.   And the Jewish Kingdom of Himyar (modern Yemen), sometimes allied with the Sassanian Persians.

Christianity was, of course, a religion of converts in its early years in Ethiopia, but in the fourth century it became the state religion.   Himyar is understood  to have followed a parallel path,  converting to Judaism by the late fourth century (p. 87).   But since Himyar did not  continue to be a Jewish kingdom, even less information about the conversion period has been preserved than in Ethiopia.

The Jewish kingdom of Himyar  arose in the southwest corner of the Arabian Peninsula, flourished, then fell to an Ethiopian invasion backed by the Byzantine Empire.   In the 520s it was led by  Jewish king named Yusuf (Joseph).   Archaeologists have found a fourth century synagogue in the ancient seaport of Qana in the Hadramaut. (p. 80)    But the Jewish kingdom itself left no historical records, and, while some inscriptions have been found, most of what is known of it comes from Syrian Christian sources notable for their hostility to Judaism.  Scholars in Persia and Byzantium had little interest in writing about this relatively unimportant region.

Bowerstock is part of a small group of scholars drawing on ancient sources and a growing but still small number of recently unearthed inscriptions to increase our knowledge of the Arabian region before Islam.  But the number of sources is so few, and so much of what we do have from ancient sources was produced by partisans in the clash of empires and faiths, that most scholars approach sixth century Arabia with extreme caution.

Bowerstock was asked to write a  a small book about a single very interesting object addressed to a general audience, and this may account for the oddly sweeping and definitive nature of a number of his statements.

In this period of intense competition between two great empires, it does not seem strange that the Axumite kingdom should have converted to  Monophysite Christianity, or the the Himyar kingdom should have converted to Judaism.   Each conversion event gave the converting dynasty the advantage of leaving pagan practices to join the rising trend toward monotheism, while not coming directly under the control of the Byzantine church.   And, possibly, in the case of  Himyar, of offering a new , monotheistic state religion  that would enable the small, border kingdom of Himyar to seek the Sassanian aid necessary to maintaining independence form the Byzantine Empire.   The sources are so paltry that the political and popular pressures on a fourth century Himyarite king are largely a matter of guesswork, but it is jarring to find Bowerstock describing the conversion of the Himyar kingdom to Judaism as  “improbable” and “bizarre”.(p. 4)    It is difficult to see why it is   “bizarre” that a Jewish, monotheistic kingdom (Himyar) should have arisen on the eastern side of the Bab-el-Mandeb, but not bizarre that a monotheistic (monophysite) Christian kingdom like Axum should have arisen on the western side.

Bowersock then categorically asserts –  citing scholarship on Sabaic epigraphy – that “from 380 onwards polytheism utterly disappeared form South Arabia”.(p. 83)   Even if we discount the possibility that pagan  inscriptions may yet turn up, the absence of pagan inscriptions is hardly the same as the absence of pagans.   Further archaeology is extremely likely to turn up ongoing use of polytheistic images and practices, unless Arabia is unlike every other part of the ancient world.  Such sweeping assertions may be the result of attempting to summarize great swaths of material for a popular audience, but they make thisreader acutely uncomfortable.

The “traditional Arab pagans” are portrayed in this book as passive victims of Zoroastrian, Christian and Jewish powers, Bowersock asserts that they  are  “the only losers”  (p. 5) in these wars.   Yet surely it is an an oddly exclusive judgment when writing about a Jewish kingdom decisively conquered by a Christian army, that was itself shortly to be conquered by the armies of Islam.

In a very short book with little detail beyond the in depth analysis of the Throne of Adulis itself, Bowerstock makes space to engage in extensive discussion of Jewish atrocities, including what he describes as an “anti-Christian pogrom” that attained notoriety in ancient and medieval Christian texts.   “Pogrom” is an oddly archaic term to apply, but Bowerstock cites it and a series of 38 martyred Christian bishops, priests and monks apparently killed in the early fifth century  to assert “that the Azqir and Najran martyrs constitute incontestable evidence for the persecution of Christians by their Jewish overlords.”(p. 85)   According to Bowerstock, it was  this “brutality”   – and not imperial ambition – that “provoked” the Ethiopian invasion to which Arabian Christians “owed their salvation.”(p. 86)      Christian, Zoroastrian and polytheistic armies and kings do not commit atrocities in this book.

The struggle for control of Himyar was protracted, and since few details are known, Bosersock is forced to paint with a broad brush, first “a Christian presence… somehow managed to supplant the Jewish rulers and assume control of the country in the early sixth century” (p. 93), followed by “subversive Jewish activities against the relatively new Christian regime.” (p. 95)   At this point according to Bowerstock, with a Jew again on the throne of Himyar,  “Confessional solidarity would have undoubtedly impelled the negus (Axumite/Ethiopian king) to undertake this campaign…”(p. 95)

Well, maybe, although few kings have ever waged major campaigns motivated exclusively by “solidarity” with co-religionists.   What we know about Ethiopian motivation comes from Christian  sources,  notably the inscription on the Throne of Adulis, and the text is  “triumphalist.”    Bowerstock assures us that this triumphalist “tone…  accords well with (the king’s) mission of avenging the deaths of many Christians at Narjan  and of assuring the security of many Christians who would reside in Arabia”.(p. 103)    Bowerstock  appears to this reader, at least,  to be defending an early sixth-century invasion which I will assume was as bloody and destructive as other ancient wars of conquest, on the grounds that it would make Arabia safe for the “many Christians who would reside there” once the existing Jewish kingdom was destroyed.   It sounds more like royal propaganda than historical analysis of royal reasons for conquering a wealthy neighboring kingdom, which in this case include loot, revenue, eliminating a rival kingdom, and gaining control of a major and highly profitable shipping route.

The Throne of Adulis succeeds in opening a small window into the Red Sea region before the advent of Islam, but Bowersock’s writing, especially his  hearty approval for the “energetic Christian ruler”  who attacked a Jewish kingdom in what appears to have been an unprovoked war of imperial expansion, strikes what can only be described as a very odd note.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Paint it Habsburg yellow

Posted by dianamuir on March 05, 2013
Architecture of Identity / Comments Off on Paint it Habsburg yellow

Interesting book review on pan-Habsburg architecture.

Jewish Identity and Egyptian Revival Architecture

Posted by dianamuir on February 25, 2013
Architecture of Identity / Comments Off on Jewish Identity and Egyptian Revival Architecture

Synagogues built in the Egyptian style, my article.

Timothy Rosendale on sixteenth century English nationalism

Posted by dianamuir on February 18, 2013
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Liturgy and Literature in the Making of Protestant England (review)
Renaissance Quarterly
Volume 61, Number 4, Winter 2008
pp. 1398-1399 | 10.1353/ren.0.0287

 

Timothy Rosendale’s Liturgy and Literature in the Making of Protestant England is an ambitious, innovative, and rewarding study of the liturgical underpinnings of English literary and national culture in the early modern era. It convincingly demonstrates the centrality of the influential (and, among literary critics, understudied) Book of Common Prayer to an emerging national culture. If the English vernacular Bible, which first appeared in print in 1526, legitimized the individual’s encounter with the sacred text, the Book of Common Prayer, which first appeared in 1549, allowed the government to control individual participation within public worship. Rosendale’s book argues that this liturgical synthesis between state-sanctioned order and personal religious authority helps explain certain features of the literary flowering under Elizabeth and the Stuart kings. English worship as envisioned by Thomas Cranmer, the principal author of the prayer book liturgy, fundamentally prioritized the representation of divine things as representation, particularly in the crucial Eucharistic service. The Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, as expressed in the Mass-rite, provoked hostile Protestant response, Rosendale argues, in part because it collapsed the distinction between sign and referent, host and the literal Body of Christ. The Book of Common Prayer, on the other hand, emphasized the Eucharist as a signifying system of signs and invited individual worshipers to obtain spiritual fulfillment through guided personal interpretation of those signs within a specifically Protestant community.

This approach to England’s religious culture during the reign of Edward VI (1547-53), when the nation was in its heyday of Protestant reform, produces a significant payoff. The first half of Rosendale’s book constitutes a detailed case study of the prayer book itself. It reveals how the liturgy emerged from the royal supremacy, by which Henry VIII and Edward VI governed the English church’s doctrinal and political affairs. Rosendale here provides a perceptive reading of Richard Hooker’s Laws of Ecclesiastical Polity, which defended the Elizabethan establishment during the 1590s against destabilizing Presbyterian attack. Hooker’s theories of order and conformity constitute perceptive analysis of similar principles within the prayer book itself. This portion also offers insightful discussion of successive changes to the Eucharistic service across a series of mid-Tudor revisions to the prayer book, including the more thoroughgoing Protestant service found in 1552 and the 1559 compromise that accompanied the Elizabethan settlement of religion. Rosendale shows how the liturgy increasingly defined public worship as a system of signs and involved worshipers in the interpretive process involved in their decoding.

The Book of Common Prayer attempts, then, to reconcile competing demands made by the government’s effort to preserve uniformity of worship and the Protestant tendency to proliferate competing versions of religious experience through individuals’ encounter with the vernacular Bible. The second half of the book explores this dialectic in writings by Sidney, Shakespeare, Milton, and Hobbes. In each case, Rosendale argues that these writers develop interpretative possibilities that are latent within the English liturgy. Sidney’s view of poetry’s capacity to provoke moral awareness in the Defence of Poetry, for example, is analogous to the prayer book’s emphasis on the process by which worshipers, who double as savvy readers, experience sanctification by properly internalizing Eucharistic representation. Rosendale also delivers a subtle and persuasive reading of the function of representation in Shakespeare’s history plays. In Henry V in particular, Shakespeare employs a discourse of monarchical representation to construct a productive, even if short-lived, national community.

Liturgy and Literature in the Making of Protestant England (review)

 

 

Publishing and Protestantism

Posted by dianamuir on January 30, 2013
Cultural values / Comments Off on Publishing and Protestantism

“The acceleration of book output after 1454 continued until the end of the sixteenth century; in the year 1550 alone, for example, some 3 million books were produced in Western Europe, more than the total number of manuscripts produced during the fourteenth century as a whole. During the rest of the early modern period growth continued, but at a slightly slower pace (somewhat under 1 percent per year). “

“One variable that correlated very strongly with literacy and book consumption was Protestantism, which in itself was able to explain almost all of the difference in literacy between northwestern Europe (England, the Netherlands, and Sweden) and the rest of the subcontinent. The question remains to what extent the growth of book production and consumption was driven by cultural or by economic factors. This was the period of the “Little Divergence,” during which the economies of the Low Countries and Great Britain continued to expand, whereas the rest of Western Europe more or less stagnated. These diverging trends are in particular clear from the estimates of real wages constructed by Allen.52 The “Little Divergence” is clearly present in the estimates of book consumption, but Catholic Belgium more or less falls out of the region of high demand for books, whereas in economically “backward” but Protestant Sweden book production expands very strongly. On the other hand, Switzerland, another (partially) Protestant nation, is a leading publisher only during the sixteenth century, but falls back dramatically during the next two centuries. This also leaves open the question if the Reformation was an external factor—an exogenous shock—or should be considered endogenous, the result of, for example, growing literacy at the grass roots level during the late medieval period, creating favorable conditions for the message of Luther and Calvin.53

count of unique titles, editions

 

Charting the “Rise of the West”: Manuscripts and Printed Books in Europe, A Long-Term Perspective from the Sixth through Eighteenth Centuries

Abstract

This article estimates the development of manuscripts and printed books in Western Europe over the course of thirteen centuries. As these estimates show, medieval and early modern book production was a dynamic economic sector, with an average annual growth rate of around one percent. Rising production after the middle of the fifteenth century probably resulted from lower book prices and higher literacy. To explain the dynamics of medieval book production, we provide estimates for urbanization rates and for the numbers of universities and monasteries. Monasteries seem to have been most important in the early period, while universities and laypeople dominated the later medieval demand for books.

 

The Journal of Economic History / Volume 69 / Issue 02 / June 2009, pp 409 – 445

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2009

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0022050709000837

La Convivencia NOT a Golden Age for publishing; but Ethnic Cleansing kills the book trade

Posted by dianamuir on January 30, 2013
Ethnic cleansing / Comments Off on La Convivencia NOT a Golden Age for publishing; but Ethnic Cleansing kills the book trade

One of our fondest imagined ideas is that the Convivencia, the Golden Age of inter-cultural exchange among Muslims, Christians and Jews in medieval Spain was an era of great intellectual flowering.   Somewhat surprising to have Eltjo Buringh and Jan Luiten Van Zanden run the numbers and find out that, in fact, Spain published somewhat less than Western Europe in those centuries.  Still, they were publishing a fair number of titles.

(Buringh and van Zanden count unique titles and editions, manuscripts, then, printed books after Gutenberg)

Less surprising though more dispiriting is the fact that after the Reconquista triumphed in 1492, and Spain expelled Jews and Muslims, it published very few books.

 

“The decline of Spain was almost equally dramatic. Its share in
European production dropped from roughly a third in the tenth century
to only 2 to 2.5 percent from 1600 to 1800. Spain did participate in the
boom from 1000 to 1300 and maintained a level of book production not
far below the Western European average in the high Middle Ages. But
per capita book production slipped to less than a quarter of the
European average in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Spain’s
decline as a publishing center thus coincided with the “Golden Age” of
Spanish economy and society.”

Charting the “Rise of the West”: Manuscripts and Printed Books in Europe, A Long-Term Perspective from the Sixth through Eighteenth Centuries

Abstract

This article estimates the development of manuscripts and printed books in Western Europe over the course of thirteen centuries. As these estimates show, medieval and early modern book production was a dynamic economic sector, with an average annual growth rate of around one percent. Rising production after the middle of the fifteenth century probably resulted from lower book prices and higher literacy. To explain the dynamics of medieval book production, we provide estimates for urbanization rates and for the numbers of universities and monasteries. Monasteries seem to have been most important in the early period, while universities and laypeople dominated the later medieval demand for books.

 

The Journal of Economic History / Volume 69 / Issue 02 / June 2009, pp 409 – 445

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2009

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1017/S0022050709000837

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