Throughout the Mediterranean basin and the Near East in Late Antiquity (2nd-7th centuries CE, for the purposes of this talk), intellectuals were drawing sharp boundaries between Jews, Christians, and "pagans," and in the process strongly condemned those who crossed them, or lived on the lines between them. But, this talk will argue, these intellectuals - whose writings would shape our own modern understandings of Judaism and Christianity - were very much in the minority. Most people, regardless of the god or gods that they worshipped, lived in the same conceptual world as their neighbors. They understood their deities and the structure of the cosmos similarly, and used similar strategies to cultivate good relationships with them. They recognized certain red lines between emerging “traditions,” but they also knew that when it came to matters of real import, like a sick child or crushing poverty, they needed to do what worked, not what some religious authority told them they should do. What mattered was what was effective, and what was effective was always tied to the ways in which invisible beings (e.g., gods, angels, demons) could be convinced or forced to help. Few outside of the elite, and not even most of them, saw a sharp line between the divine and human worlds.
Michael L. Satlow (Ph.D. in Ancient Judaism from the Jewish Theological Seminary of America) is Professor of Judaic and Religious Studies at Brown University. He specializes in the history of Jews and Judaism in antiquity but also writes and teaches more broadly. His most recent authored book is How the Bible Became Holy and has recently edited two volumes, Judaism and the Economy: A Sourcebook and Strength to Strength: Essays in Honor of Shaye J. D. Cohen. He is the Managing Editor for Brown Judaic Studies and has held fellowships from the NEH, ACLS, John Simon Guggenheim Foundation, and the Fulbright program among others. He also directs several digital projects, including Inscriptions of Israel/Palestine.
Professor Satlow will deliver the Samuel and Sheila Goldberg Lecture, which focuses on Judaism and its impact on national and transnational cultures and thought.