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Divine Mothers: The Influence of Isis on the Virgin Mary in Egyptian Lactans-Iconography

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This article provides an overview of the scholarship on the relationship between depictions of Isis and Mary that show them breastfeeding or offering their breast (representations of the lactans-type) in Egypt. In particular, it questions the notion of a deliberate cultic continuity between the two holy women based on the similarity of their iconography. The evidence demonstrates that whereas Isis lactans can be documented in the Mediterranean from 700 BCE until the fourth century CE, Maria lactans-imagery only appears uncontested in Egypt from the seventh century CE onwards. This evidence, therefore, does not warrant a generalization that there was a deliberate continuity between the cult of Isis and that of Mary. Although the similarities between the Isis and Maria lactans-imagery are undeniable, they need to be understood within their respective cultural contexts.
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Journal of the Canadian Society for Coptic Studies 3–4 — 2012
71
S H
Divine Mothers: e Inuence of Isis on the
Virgin Mary in Egyptian Lactans-Iconography*
Abstract
is article provides an overview of the scholarship on the relationship between depictions of Isis and Mary that
show them breastfeeding or oering their breast (representations of the lactans-type) in Egypt. In particular, it
questions the notion of a deliberate cultic continuity between the two holy women based on the similarity of
their iconography. e evidence demonstrates that whereas Isis lactans can be documented in the Mediterranean
from 700 BCE until the fourth century CE, Maria lactans-imagery only appears uncontested in Egypt from the
seventh century CE onwards. is evidence, therefore, does not warrant a generalization that there was a delib-
erate continuity between the cult of Isis and that of Mary. Although the similarities between the Isis and Maria
lactans-imagery are undeniable, they need to be understood within their respective cultural contexts.
INTRODUCTION
When looking at images of the Egyptian goddess Isis and those of the Virgin Mary, one may initially observe
iconographic similarities. ese parallels have led many scholars to suggest that there is a distinct iconographic
relationship between Isis and Mary. In fact, some scholars have gone even further, and have suggested, on the
basis of this relationship, a direct link between the cult of Mary and that of Isis. Other similarities have been
noted in their epithets and the proximity of Marian churches to temples of Isis.1 ese factors have led various
scholars to believe that Christians deliberately adopted “pagan” cults to mark Christian triumph. is idea ts
well into the persistent view of Late Antiquity as a time of conict between “paganism” and Christianity, from
which the new religion quickly emerged triumphant. In his e World of Late Antiquity, Peter Brown was the
rst to seriously question the monolithic notions of “conict” and Christian “triumph.2 His book presents
religious transformation as a complex and gradual process of cultural change, a period of interaction between
the traditional cults and practices and Christianity, rather than one of conict. As a result, scholars have moved
* e author would like to thank Jitse H.F. Dijkstra and the anonymous reader for their helpful comments on an
earlier version of this article.
1 See below for a discussion of the scholarship concerning the relationship between Isis and Mary.
2 B, 1971.
D M
72
away from the notions of “conict” and “triumph” towards a more nuanced understanding of religious trans-
formation.3 It seems that the idea of a triumphalist adoption of “pagan” cults is also in need of revision.
A good example to illustrate this point is the case of Menouthis (near Alexandria), where a church of Saints
Cyrus and John was placed in the proximity of the temple of Isis Medica. Cyrus and John were martyrs whose
cult at Menouthis was associated with oracles and miraculous dreams. While we cannot discount the possibil-
ity of continuity in the type of cult (both were oracular cults), there is no evidence to suggest that the cult of Isis
was deliberately adopted. Some scholars have proposed that the similarity of the name Cyrus (Κύρος in Greek)
might have been reminiscent of the epithet “lady” (κυρία) of Isis, and assumed from this similarity that a “cult
adoption” took place.4 However, the similarity of these names seems to be pure chance and cannot be used as
evidence for a deliberate adoption of a “pagan” cult. Other scholars have asserted that a “religious transference
took place, and suggest the similarity of the epithets or the perpetuation of the oracular cult as the basis for this
transmission.5 But one need only to look at the distinct topography of the sites to observe that there is a dis-
connection in place of worship.6 What happened here, therefore, was merely a borrowing of function, a place
in which the Christian cult adapted one aspect of an existing model of the cult of Isis. By extension, then, we
need to be careful in assuming too readily a continuity of cultic worship from Isis to Mary.7
In this article, I will rst introduce the work of Tran Tam Tinh, whose thorough study on the iconography
of Isis lactans in the 1970s has demonstrated that any connection between Isis and Mary is tenuous and can
be discerned solely in the lactans-iconography. His departure from the previous line of scholarship was innova-
tive, but despite his arguments, several later scholars continued to uphold the notion that a deliberate adoption
took place from the cult of Isis to that of Mary. In the next section, I will briey discuss the studies of these
scholars working on the relationship between the iconography of the holy women, and demonstrate that each
author’s individual approach is determined by his/her eld of study. I will conclude with a reevaluation of the
current scholarship in order to provide a more balanced understanding of the interpretation of the association
between Isis and Mary.
THE EVIDENCE COLLECTED BY TRAN TAM TINH
In his study, Tran Tam Tinh oers a nuanced and detailed analysis of the development of lactans-iconog-
raphy. He traces the iconography of the lactans-type from its earliest appearances in Egypt to its extensive use
in Isiac imagery and concludes with an overview of its inuence on Marian iconography. e lactans, or the
gesture of oering the breast for feeding or the act of nursing, has a distinct symbolism in ancient Egypt. It
symbolizes that the milk emitted from the divine is representative of the nourishment of life and divinity.8
From 700 BCE we can see a rise in popularity of Isiac votive statues of the lactans-type, almost all of which
share the same characteristics: the goddess is sitting on a throne with no backrest or a very low one; sometimes
3 For an up-to-date overview of the scholarship on religious transformation in Late Antique Egypt, see D,
2008: 14–18.
4 E.g. M, 1995: 327–328; R, 2002: 134–135.
5 A, 1993: 15.
6 M, 1998.
7 D, 2005: 168.
8 T T T, 1973: 1.
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she has a throne on her head or she wears a horned sun-disk; her legs are parallel and feet are at on the oor;
her proper right hand is placed on her left breast and her left hand holds up Horus’ head; the legs of her son
hang over the left hand side of her lap; and he holds his hands towards his body, while avoiding the gaze of his
mother (gs. 1 and 2).9
Tran Tam Tinhs study recognizes the similarities in the iconography of Isis and Maria lactans without sug-
gesting that a deliberate adoption took place between the cults of Isis and Mary. He further notes the integral
role of the feminine divinity in the religions of Egypt and the Mediterranean, especially the tradition of mother
goddesses and the iconography associated with them.10 e strength of his approach is that it provides a se-
quential development of the Isis lactans-type and concludes with a discussion of its similarities to the iconog-
raphy of Maria lactans. e earliest images of Mary concentrate especially on Christological and eschatological
themes, including Jesus sitting on Mary’s knees or presenting Jesus to the Magi. Mary is secondary in these
roles, and her presence in these images reects her role in the biblical narratives of the birth of Jesus.11 Tran Tam
Tinh asserts that many scholars conate the image of Jesus sitting on Mary’s lap with the Maria lactans-type.
e lactans-imagery is characterized by the invitation of the child to the mother’s breast for feeding or nursing,
and should not be confused with the quite dierent iconography of a seated mother and child.
ere are two images in the catacombs of Priscilla in Rome, both dating to the third century, that have
been claimed as the earliest representations of Maria lactans. e rst depicts a group scene with a woman in a
praying gesture (orans), to the left a virgin, and to the right a woman in a toga with a naked child (g. 3).12 e
child clings to the chest of the woman but there is nothing that would indicate a breastfeeding scene. Further-
more, the painting lacks any attributes which could positively identify this woman as Mary. e second scene
depicts the Good Shepherd in the center, to the right the prophet Balaam with a seated Virgin and child (g.
4).13 e child seems to be caressing the breast of his mother, but again there is no evidence to suggest breast-
feeding. e gures in the catacombs are not of the lactans-type, and thus Tran Tam Tinh notes that they are
not representative of the earliest Maria lactans-iconography. In fact, he demonstrates that the image of Maria
lactans does not appear uncontested in the archaeological record until the seventh century, and only in Egypt.14
e lack of evidence for Isis lactans after the fourth century CE and the absence of any representations of
Maria lactans which are denitively dated prior to the seventh century end any discussion of a direct chrono-
logical sequence between Isis and Maria lactans in Egypt. Furthermore, while there are several depictions of
Isis lactans in the third century, Tran Tam Tinh records only three such representations in the fourth century,
9 T T T, 1973: 8–9, gs. 7 and 8. ere is a statuette that has been interpreted as Isis lactans dating to
1,900 BCE. However, it has not been included in the present discussion, because its attribution is still questioned
on account of its lack of denitive attributes. Nevertheless, its presence demonstrates that the lactans-imagery was
prevalent in Egypt for millennia prior to the arrival of Mary in Egypt.
10 T T T, 1973: 42.
11 T T T, 1973: 43. See also W, 1960: 14–90 who demonstrates that many of the early depictions
of Mary feature Jesus sitting on her lap.
12 G, 1966: 116, g. 115; T T T, 1973: 46; P, 2008: 48.
13 G, 1966: 99, g. 95; P, 2008: 48–49.
14 T T T, 1973: 42.
D M
74
including a limestone statue from Antinoe (g. 5),15 a wall painting from Karanis (g. 6) and a limestone statu-
ette from Akhmim (g. 7).16 us, he demonstrates a decline in usage of this imagery in the fourth century
CE and a signicant sequential gap as compared with its later uses in Christian iconography. Tran Tam Tinh
does, however, discuss one funeral stela that may provide the earliest chronological link between Isis and Maria
lactans. He dates this stela, which has been found at Medinet el-Fayum, to the fth or sixth century (g. 8).17
e image was done in a “grato” style, lightly incised, and portrays a seated woman oering her breast to
her child. e woman may well be Christian as there is a cross on either side of her head; however, there is no
indication that mother and child should represent Mary and Jesus.18 In a study that appeared four years after
Tram Tan Tinhs, Eenberger has demonstrated that this stela should be dated to the fourth century CE.19 In
fact, two painted inscriptions (one on either side of the woman), which were discovered during an examination
of the original in Berlin, have revealed that this stela is meant to represent a deceased woman. e inscription
reads:
Left side of image: Right side of image:
ευμυ̣- εὐψύ-
η̣μ̣α̣ (?) χι
ἔ̣τ̣ω̣[ν] ἀγα-
κ̣α οὐ̣- ϑέ.
5. δίς
ἀθάνα-
τος.
e left column reads, “(Name?) 21 years old. No one is immortal,” the one to the right “Be of good cheer,
you great one.20 us, Eenberger concludes that the stela from Medinet el-Fayum is not a representation of
Maria lactans, but that it rather demonstrates a “spilling over” of the contemporary iconography of Isis lactans
15 Cf. V F, 1996: 76, cat. no. 7, in which it is suggested that the statuette from Antinoe may be a partial
falsication as changes were made to the head of Isis, her left forearm, the surface of her garment, as well as the hand
and head of the child. Furthermore, there is no conclusive evidence to attribute this statue to Antinoe, and a revised
date of the third century has been suggested. is date further limits the number of Isis lactans representations in
fourth-century Egypt.
16 T T T, 1973: 54–55, 60–61, 72, gs. 17, 30 and 48. Tran Tam Tinh denes the term lactans as the
oering of the breast for the purpose of feeding or nursing. A distinction needs to be made, however, between the
lactans and the simple gesture of showing the breast. For instance, in the fresco from Karanis and the statuette from
Akhmim, there is no evidence of Horus reaching for the breast or engaging Isis in the act of nursing. e similar-
ity of these representations to the lactans-type is undeniable and warrants an inclusion in a discussion of lactans-
imagery, but a more complex understanding of the distinction between the two postures is needed (cf. M
and M, 2005: 5–6), which will be worked out further in the author’s PhD-thesis.
17 T T T, 1973: 45, g. 202. See also W, 1964: 17, g. 5.
18 Cf. T T T, 1973: 29–30, 45.
19 E, 1977.
20 E, 1977: 163–167.
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S H
into individual funerary art.21 is interpretation has recently been taken up by Parlasca who discusses an-
other funerary stela from Egypt, currently in Warsaw, with lactans-iconography, dating to the second century
CE.22 is particular stela has an inscription that names the woman as a twenty-one-year-old mother named
Sarapous and her son Hierax. In this case, we have a denitive representation of a mother and child, not of a
saint or a goddess, and there is no indication that this image should be designated as Christian. According to
Eenberger, however, the addition of the crosses to the stela from Medinet el-Fayum indicates that we have
here the rst Christian appropriation of the Isis lactans imagery and that the stela can be seen as a prototype
for the later representations of Maria lactans.23
Two wall paintings, discovered in the excavations of the monastery of Apa Jeremiah at Saqqara, are identi-
ed as the oldest surviving certain representations of Maria lactans, and have been dated to the seventh century
CE.24 e rst of these is located in a monk’s cell (cell A), framed in a niche, and depicts Jesus sitting on Mary’s
lap, holding her arm with both hands while she oers him her breast (g. 9).25 is representation of Mary is
noticeably hieratic as her gaze is forward and static. e second image is located in cell 1725 and is iconograph-
ically close to the aforementioned image (g. 10).26 In this case, however, Mary is visually more maternal in her
gesture, although both consist of a denitive maternal act. e same monastery yielded a third representation
of the Maria lactans in cell 1807, but the painting is no longer extant.27
Two images of Maria lactans have also been recorded at the monastery of Apa Apollo at Bawit. Like the
paintings at Saqqara, these images were also located in monastic cells. e rst image was placed in a niche in
cell XLII of the monastery, although it is no longer extant.28 is painting has also been dated to the seventh
century and conformed to the standard iconography of an enthroned Mary oering Jesus her breast. e rep-
resentation of Maria lactans in this cell is unique to our discussion as it was part of a double composition. e
upper register featured Christ enthroned, while the lower register was occupied by an image of Maria lactans
surrounded by the twelve apostles.29 Another Maria lactans was discovered in cell XXX at Bawit but is also no
21 For further discussion on this stela, see C, 1989: 403–404; V F: 1996: 114–115, cat. no.
61; L, 1996: 152–164; T, 2000: 71; T, 2005: 271–272; P‚ 2007: 323–324.
22 P, 2007: 324, with references.
23 E, : ; L, 1996: 156–157. Further study is required into the nature of the two
crosses incised above the head of the deceased. ey do not conform to the incision depth or style of the rest of the
stela, and in fact, they appear to have been squeezed into the stela as they cut into part of the image of the woman.
e question of whether the crosses belong to the original stela or not, however, is beyond the scope of this paper,
and will be examined in the author’s forthcoming PhD-thesis.
24 B, 2004: 1174.
25 Q, 1908: 64, 81–82, pls. XL–XLIII; T T T, 1973: 44, g. 203.
26 Q, 1912: 23, pls. XX–XXIII; T T T, 1973: 44, g. 204.
27 For the excavation records see Q, 1912: 19. To my knowledge no photograph of this image has been
published.
28 T T T, 1973: 44.
29 T T T, 1973: 44. Here he cites C, 1904: 522, g. 1; 1999: 39–55 for the original interpretation
and analysis of the Maria lactans. Cf. V L, 2007: 32 who states that a number of these double compositions
have been found in the eastern niches of cells and chapels at Bawit and Saqqara. e upper zone usually contains
D M
76
longer extant. Both, however, conformed to the same iconography as at Saqqara; Jesus grabs Mary’s left arm
with both hands, while she presents her breast with her left hand.30
ese ve images represent all of the certain, known images of the Maria lactans-type in Egypt when Tran
Tam Tinh published his study in 1973. A sixth image of Maria lactans from the north conch of the church of
Anba Bishay (church of the Red Monastery, near Sohag) can be added to this list (g. 11).31 is gure is dated
to the seventh-eighth century and shows Mary oering her left breast to Jesus with her right hand. A seventh
image of Maria lactans was discovered in 1996 during the removal of a layer of eighteenth-century wall plaster
at the church of the Virgin Mary at the Monastery of the Syrians (Deir al-Surian) in the Wadi Natrun.32 is
image depicts Mary oering her right breast to Jesus with her left arm, while Jesus sits on her right lap (g. 12).
e wall painting was found on a column, on the eastern wall of the khurus, directly in front of the sanctuary.
is image has been dated to the second half of the seventh century based on the monogram for Hagia Maria
that was written on either side of her head, as well as the iconographic similarities of this painting to the image
in cell XXX at Bawit. e addition of these two images to the iconographic type of Maria lactans raises the
total number of representations, with denitive dates, to seven (two paintings in churches and ve paintings in
monastic cells).33 us, the inclusion of these images further illustrates that Tran Tam Tinhs observation that
the iconographic similarities between Isis and Mary are limited to the lactans-type and to monastic contexts
still stands.
A MATTER OF APPROACH: EGYPTOLOGISTS VS. MARIOLOGISTS
Until the observations of Tran Tam Tinh were published in the 1970s and in many instances in the decades
following his publication, scholars working within the parameters of the Isis-Mary debate have often drawn
parallels between the two divine women. e two streams of scholarship, which I will call here the Egyptolo-
gists and the Mariologists, fall generally on opposite ends of the spectrum; whereas the Egyptologists empha-
size a continuity of cult between the two women, the Mariologists argue for a disassociation of the two gures.
e rst group are the Egyptologists, who highlight the similarities between Isis and Maria lactans and
indicate that the former had a strong inuence on the creation of the latter. While the similarity of the Isis and
Maria lactans-iconography is undeniable, these scholars have projected further connections or transpositions
a representation of Christ in Majesty and the lower zone is occupied by the Virgin Mary, either as an orant or en-
throned with Child.
30 W, 1974: 286.
31 B, 2006: pls. 1 and 5; 2008: 305–317; L, 2008: 26–28, pl. 4; D and V L,
2010: 8, 12.
32 I, 1998; I, et al., 1998: 86–87; B, 2005: 21, g. 2.2; 2008: 1182–1184, g. 2.
33 B, 2008: 1174 (n. 5) provides a list of all the known representations of Maria lactans, but surprisingly
omits the Maria lactans from both the Red Monastery and Deir al-Surian, although she briey mentions the lactans
from Deir al-Surian on p. 1182. Bolman also mentions a papyrus fragment which has been dated by its rst editor to
the fth-sixth century (B, 1965: 29–31, pl. 10a, followed most recently by B et al., 2008: 402,
no. 1574). e date and interpretation of this papyrus will be addressed in the author’s PhD-thesis. Bolman also
includes four manuscript front pieces dating to the ninth and tenth centuries; these manuscripts, however, exceed
the established time parameters (fourth to eighth century) of the present article.
77
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of Isiac worship onto Mary. For example, a German dissertation of the 1950s by Unger suggests that the use
of the epithet eotokos, or “God-Bearer,” was a transferral of the attributes of Isis onto Mary. e common
title for Isis in ancient Egyptian, mwt ntr, can be translated as “divine mother.” is has led to the assertion
that the title eotokos, with regards to Mary, would have been used for the rst time in Egypt and that the
development of the cult of Mary would have begun in Egypt as well. us, he concludes that the adaptation
of Isiac iconography was a natural progression from the previous attributes of Isis.34 In the same way, Witt sees
the continuity of Isiac worship ingrained in the theology and even the iconography of Mary.35
A more nuanced approach of the potential iconographic relationship between the two women may be
observed in the work of the well-known Egyptologist Françoise Dunand. She recognizes that the imagery of
a goddess holding a child in her arms is not unique to Isis and Mary, as it appears frequently throughout his-
tory in Greece, Anatolia, and even in the Neolithic period.36 Furthermore, the lactans-type has a precedent in
ancient Egyptian religion outside of Isiac imagery, such as in depictions of the goddess Mut at Gebel-Silsila.37
Dunand further states that if scholars are to reconcile a relationship between Isis and Mary, Isis must have dem-
onstrated an iconographical inuence over the Virgin in both time and space.38 Although Dunand provides
a more nuanced understanding of the nature of mother goddess iconography throughout the Mediterranean,
she still advocates for a direct connection between the iconography of Isis and Mary. She states that Isis’ preva-
lence in the psyche of Egyptians in Late Antiquity suggests that Christians would have adopted and reused her
iconography in their new religion, which could in fact suggest a cultic continuation or syncretism of the two
holy women.39
e second group of scholars are the Mariologists. For this group of scholars, the idea of a deliberate adop-
tion from the cult of Isis to that of Mary has a negative connotation, since they work from the notion that most
Christian cults were disassociated with the past.40 By approaching the study of Isis and Mary from this point
of view, Marian scholars have emphasised that the venerated women do not function in the same manner. As
a result, the scholarship confronting the issue from a Mariological approach is careful not to suggest a syncre-
tism of the two cults. Averil Cameron, for example, states that religious development cannot be explained in
mono-causal terms and argues that syncretism would only have played a minor role. Moreover, she suggests
competition as a more eective model to understand their similarities.41
Maza, on the other hand, is more assertive in her disassociation of the two cults. Her study concludes that
the gure of the Virgin Mary appears as a result of a gradual amplication that converted her from a minor
character in the Christian tradition to a divine presence by a process of theological re-creation for purposes of
her newly established dogma at the Council of Ephesus in 431 CE.42 Maza further notes that Mary did not
34 U, 1957: 116–117.
35 W , 1997: 278.
36 D, 2000: 161.
37 As mentioned by T T T, 1973: 3.
38 D, 2000: 161.
39 D, 2000: 165.
40 M, 2000: 213.
41 C, 2004: 13.
42 M, 2000: 213.
D M
78
initially have any divine attributes, unlike Isis, who was wholly divine and autonomous from the beginning.
us, she asserts that it is inappropriate to suggest religious continuity from seeming parallels in iconography.
is line of thought is taken up by McGuckin who argues that many of the representations of Mary, such as
that of the Maria lactans, were understood by Christians from the outset within their own cultural syntax,
and used by them to recruit followers of traditional religions.43 He recognizes that many of the similarities are
incidental and might be insignicant, whereas other iconographic features were deliberately selected because
the image of Mary would nd resonance with followers of Isis. He does not suggest, however, that a syncretism
took place from the Christian perspective.
Other scholars, notably Corrington and Bolman, have provided additional clarity to the Mariological de-
bate by marrying the disciplines of art history and theology, and focusing specically on the meaning of the
Maria lactans imagery within a Christological framework. ey have examined the physical act of nursing and
have grounded its implications in Christology. e image of Maria lactans highlights the divine nature of Jesus
because Mary was a virgin and was, as a result, incapable of producing milk. e divine nature of Christ is
thus emphasized, as he suckles the divine food provided to him by God. e milk, or the act of nursing, acts
primarily as a metaphor for the Eucharist, and maintains an entirely Christian meaning, independent of any
iconographic similarities it may bear with Isis lactans.44
DISCUSSION: TOWARDS A MORE COMPLEX VIEW
While both approaches have their strengths and weaknesses, I opt for a middle approach in the interpreta-
tion of the relationship between Isis and Mary. On the one hand, there are clear iconographic links between
the Isis and Maria lactans-type, but on the other, there is little substantiation to suggest that this particular
Isiac imagery had a deep impact on the artistic repertoire of the Virgin Mary. While the iconographic parallel
between both lactans-types is undeniable, its limited use and containment to a monastic context suggest that it
was not widely adopted by those wishing to illustrate the Virgin. us, we have a clear borrowing of the image,
but this does not warrant making generalizations for a deliberate cultic continuity. While we have to take into
account that the limited preservation of many sites, pillaging and modern construction has forever damaged
many potential clues to the prevalence of this imagery, the sources as they stand limit both the number and
provenience of extant Maria lactans images and suggest that even if there is some continuity in the imagery,
this does not warrant the conclusion that a deliberate adoption took place between the cults of Isis and Mary.
A reevaluation of the evidence thus suggests that a distinct iconographic link between the Isis and Maria
lactans-type exists, but that this is not indicative of the adoption of the cult of Isis by the cult of Mary. Even
though this specic Marian image may well have been borrowed from the Isiac iconographic repertoire, it
would have been understood within a distinctively Christological framework. Both Mary and Isis were wor-
shipped dierently, Isis as a goddess in her own right, while Mary was important insofar as her relationship to
her son was concerned. e monks were borrowing this image from the familiar iconographic repertoire of Isis
and other Egyptian mother goddesses. e same notion of iconographic borrowing can also be seen with the
ankh-cross.45 Still the symbolism of the imagery would have been understood from a Christian perspective. In
43 MG, 2008: 11.
44 C, 1989: 412–413; B, 2004: 1181–1182.
45 See D, 2012: 81, with references.
79
S H
sum, when taking away a triumphalist interpretation of the ties between Isis and Mary, a more intricate process
of transformation arises, which deserves to be studied in its full capacity.
D M
80
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PhD-candidate
Department of Classics and Religious Studies
University of Ottawa
D M
84
Figure 1. Isis lactans (eighth century BCE); Louvre, Paris
(T T T, 1973: g. 7). Isis holds her right hand
to her breast. Figure 2. Isis lactans (seventh-sixth century BCE);
National Archaeological Museum of Naples, Naples (T
T T, 1973: g. 8). Isis holds her right hand to her
breast, while Horus sits on her lap.
85
S H
Figure 3. Woman and child (third century CE); Catacombs of Priscilla, Rome (G, 1966: g. 115).
Woman holding a child on the right side of her body.
Figure 4. Woman and child (third century CE); Catacombs of Priscilla, Rome (G, 1966: g. 95).
Woman holding child on her right knee.
D M
86
Figure 5. Limestone statuette of Isis lactans from Antinoe
(fourth century CE); Dahlem Museum, Berlin (T T
T, 1973: g. 17). Isis holds her breast with her right
hand, while Horus lies across her left knee.
Figure 6. Fresco of Isis lactans at Karanis (fourth century
CE); Karanis (T T T, 1973: g. 48). Isis oers
her breast with her right hand, while Horus sits frontally
on her left leg, holding his nger to his lips.
87
S H
Figure 7. Limestone statuette of Isis lactans
from Akhmim (fourth century CE); Staatliche
Museen, Berlin (T T T, 1973: g. 30).
Fragmentary statuette of Isis with Horus sitting
on her left leg.
Figure 8. Funeral stela from Medinet el-Fayum (fourth century
CE); Ägyptisches Museum, Berlin (T T T, 1973: g.
202). Woman oering her breast with her right hand, while she
holds her child in her left arm.
D M
88
Figure 9. Maria lactans at the monastery of Apa Jeremiah at
Saqqara (seventh century CE); Coptic Museum, Cairo (T
T T, 1973: g. 203). Mary oers her right breast with
her left hand, while Jesus sits on her right knee.
Figure 10. Maria lactans in cell 1725 at the monastery
of Apa Jeremiah at Saqqara (seventh century CE);
Coptic Museum, Cairo (T T T, 1973: g.
204). Mary oers her right breast with her left hand,
while Jesus sits on her right knee.
89
S H
Figure 11. Maria lactans in the church of Anba Bishay, Red Monastery (seventh-eighth century CE);
reconstruction (L, 2008: pl. 4). Mary oers her left breast with her right hand, while Jesus sits on
her left knee.
D M
90
Figure 12. Maria lactans (second half of seventh century CE); wall painting, khurus, church of the Virgin Mary,
Deir al-Surian (B, 2004: g. 2). Mary oers her right breast with her left hand, while Jesus sits on her right knee.
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Cet article a pour theme l'intolerance : il s'agit d'en saisir les manifestations dans l'antiquite tardive a l'est du Bassin mediterraneen. L'A. s'interesse donc surtout a la persecutions des cultes paiens a l'interieur d'un Empire Romain gagne par le christianisme. Il s'est concentre sur la periode 460-560 et prend appui sur le temoignage de saint Jean Damascene. C'est le neoplatonisme de Proclus a Athenes qui s'est vu le plus vise durant cette periode. L'A. examine aussi la reponse de ces doctrines au christianisme
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In their recovery and interpretation of the evidence for women's religious involvement in antiquity, feminist historians of religion employ terms like “image,” “reflection,” and “symbol” as constants in their vocabulary. This terminology indicates the importance feminist scholars attach to the ways in which women's activities are presented and the ways in which they are interpreted. Interpretation becomes the more difficult as one approaches the religions of the ancient Mediterranean world, not only because of the relative paucity and elusive nature of the evidence for women's participation in these religions, but also because the two great bodies of canon in the West—the literary artifacts of the Greco-Roman world and the canon of biblical literature—reflect a dual process of “canonization.” Certain cultural constructs and dominant metaphors have become embodied in the text themselves, while a tradition of “canonized conventions” has been modeled by these metaphors to “evaluate a priori what we see.” The interaction of conceptualization, representation, and interpretation of appearance, moreover, is such that there cannot be an “innocent eye.” Nelson Goodman observes: “The eye always comes ancient to its work. …Not only how but what it sees is regulated by need and perspective. …It does not so much mirror as take and make.” Moreover, the use of the term “image” itself reflects a process by which a particular representation is shaped and subsequently held up as the way in which something is conceptually “seen” or meant to be “seen,” and which is not necessarily or even possibly a “true” reflection.