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Bad Blood? Varying Attitudes on Human Sacrifice in Archaic Greek Art

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Abstract

In the ancient religious imagination, catastrophic events – plagues, droughts, natural disasters – were frequently seen as manifestations of divine wrath that necessitated extraordinary ritual responses to quell. These responses frequently consisted in intensified forms of sacred violence, the most extreme of which was human sacrifice. The corpus of Greek literature is rife with myths of human sacrifice. In spite of this rich mythic repertoire, Greek artists produced scenes of human sacrifice rather infrequently and drew upon an extremely restricted range of subjects. The extant corpus of human sacrificial images totals fewer than 50 specimens and almost all of them feature the maidens Polyxena or Iphigeneia as the victim. In the Archaic era (700-480 BCE), painters and sculptors were almost exclusively interested in the sacrificial fate of Polyxena. Archaic representations of Polyxena’s sacrifice are remarkable for their overt treatment of the physical violence to which the maiden was subjected, in some cases going so far as to visualize the blood gushing forth from her perforated neck. Interest in the violent and gory aspect of the sacrificial ritual diminishes in the closing decades of the Archaic period. The title of the proposed talk, bad blood, has a twofold sense; both senses refer to the underlying subject of belief and to the main arguments of this paper: The first sense is idiomatic and indicative: Polyxena’s sacrifice was a matter of bad blood, since it resulted from the need to placate the wroth and aggrieved ghost of Achilles, who denied the Greeks safe passage home until he was granted the spoils due to him (cf. Eur. Hek. 35-44; Quint. Smyr 14.324-338). The second, more literal sense is interrogative: To wit, was the shedding of Polyxena’s blood bad per se? While Greek authors of the Classical period and beyond suggest that human sacrifice was universally condemned as an unthinkably barbaric offense and a violation of ritual norms, earlier extant literary sources offer no such clear ruling. However, this situation changes when the small yet iconographically remarkable group of pre-Classical visual representations of human sacrifice are considered. In these images, one may detect a diversity of attitudes or positions on the ritual of human sacrifice, individual as well as collective, that range from acceptance to outright repudiation. This range of attitudes is not, however, neatly confined to the proverbial frame of the image or the mythical context of the event. Like the mythic cast of characters, contemporary ancient viewers were meant to participate in the discursive dynamic, bringing their individual beliefs and attitudes to bear on the scene and its significance. In other words, these representations imply a multiplicity of attitudes (and the beliefs that inform them) among the implied viewers of these artworks.
2021 Biblical Studies Symposium
Programme
40
The University of St Andrews is a charity registered in Scotland, No: SC013532
is stressed is a sign of the revolutionary aspect of God depiction in the book of Job. I
claim that remarking Job’s faults was aimed at reducing that revolutionary aspect, and
at restoring the traditional image of God.
Finally – having shown that the book of Job can be considered a turning point in the
Judeo-Christian concept of God, because it makes it possible, probably for the first
time, to reject the concept of a God who always mundanely rewards the good and
punishes the evil I will conclude that this process also represents a change in the
subjectivity of the believer. I will claim that the believing subjectivity begins, in the
book of Job, an ideal shift, which following Robert Pfaller’s terminology we can
describe as a shift form “distanced beliefs” to “appropriated” beliefs.
Session 2 Belief in Greco-Roman Art and Literature
(Moderator: Tyler Hoagland)
Thomas Habib, Clare College (Cambridge)
Honor Thy Gods: The character of unbelief in Euripides’ Bacchae and the Gospel of
John 
This paper explores the concept of ‘unbelief’ in the Ancient world through a study of
two literary characters: Pentheus, from Euripides’ Bacchae and the Ioudaioi from the
Gospel of John. Though separated by time and culture, Euripides’ Bacchae and the
Gospel of John share remarkable similarities in both narrative content and themes. Both
texts dramatise the arrival of a deity, in human form, and the rejection of that deity by
his own people. Both texts explore themes of belief and unbelief, such as
recognition/lack of recognition; knowledge/ignorance; seeing/blindness; and
honour/dishonour. And yet, both texts offer distinct treatments on these themes
according to their own cultural and religious contexts and beliefs.
This paper will focus on the significance of failing to give due honour (τιμή) toward a
god. In the Bacchae, Dionysus ‘wishes to have honours’ from all people (E. Ba. 208)
and ‘enjoys being honoured’ (321). Pentheus, as an archetypal theomachos, fails to give
honour to the god and suffers as a result. Similarly in the Gospel of John, Jesus teaches
that the Father has entrusted judgment to the Son, ‘that all may honour the Son’ and
that ‘whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father, who sent him.’ (John
5:22-23). The implication of this statement is that the Ioudaioi, in failing to honour
the Son, have failed to honour the Father who they claim to worship. Through a
comparison of these characters of unbelief, we will explore the significance and nature
of honouring a deity in both texts.
We conclude with a brief consideration of the extent to which these texts reflect the
beliefs of fifth century Athenians and early Christian communities. We will explore
whether honouring a deity was an essential element of Greek piety and Christian belief,
as well as important differences in how honour of a deity was conceived and given in
these distinct religious contexts.
2021 Biblical Studies Symposium
Programme
41
The University of St Andrews is a charity registered in Scotland, No: SC013532
Jacob Mackey, Occidental College (California)
What Does it Mean to “Believe” in the Ancient World? Roman Pagan vs. Roman
Christian Belief  
I shall argue that historicizing treatments of belief often fail to distinguish consistently
between the mental capacity for belief or believing and concepts of belief. This failure
to distinguish results in a misapprehension of belief/believing, which as a natural
capacity of the mind has no history (except an evolutionary one). In contrast,
conceptualizations of belief do have histories, though it is far less arresting to say so.
This distinction is important, because Roman pagans have often been said not only not
to have religious beliefs as later Christians did, but also not to have belief, as a human
capacity. The proper basis for distinguishing between belief as a cognitive capacity of
Homo sapiens and concepts of belief as historically contingent cognitive products of
human thought has hitherto been lacking. What we need is an understanding of
metacognition. Metacognition is cognitive self-awareness. It is the capacity of the mind
to cognize our own cognition, to think about our own thinking. It is a cognitive process
that takes other cognitive processes as its objects and represents them so that we may
monitor, assess, and exert control over them.
Metacognition allows us to take not only our own individual beliefs but our own
capacity for belief as objects of thought and reflection. Metacognition allows us to
develop and to transmit concepts of belief. These concepts of belief are really nothing
more than distinct sets of beliefs about belief. To have a concept of belief thus
presupposes a more primitive capacity, to wit, the capacity to believe. So, concepts of
belief, qua packages of beliefs about belief, can have histories, and these histories are
made possible by our metacognitive ability to take belief as an
object of belief. But belief itself, as a type of mental state, cannot be said to have a
history. For the capacity to represent how matters stand in the world—which is all that
the mental state that in popular and technical discourses goes under the name “belief”—
is simply a core feature of the human mind. I propose that it is in different traditions of
metacognition about belief that the differences between Roman and Christian belief
may be found. Roman Christians “believed in belief.”1 They believed that belief was
crucial for salvation, but not just any old belief: they believed that they had to have the
“right” beliefs to achieve the desired effect. Hence orthodoxy and an investment in
creeds. Hence the sort of creedal self-monitoring familiar from, say, Augustine’s
Confessions. Romans pagans did not believe such things about belief. They did not, on
the whole, “believe in belief” as a source of religious value in and of itself. On the
whole, they did not monitor their own religious beliefs for orthodoxy and effectiveness
in the manner of an Augustine. This is not to say that they did not reflect upon and
worry over their own beliefs. But on no construal of the differences between Roman
and Christian metacognition can we say that the Romans lacked belief, as has often
been asserted. They had both the capacity for belief and they had individual beliefs, but
they believed different things about their capacity and about their individual beliefs
than later Christians did.
2021 Biblical Studies Symposium
Programme
42
The University of St Andrews is a charity registered in Scotland, No: SC013532
Michael Fowler, East Tennessee State University
Bad Blood? Varying Attitudes on Human Sacrifice in Archaic Greek Art 
In the ancient religious imagination, catastrophic events plagues, droughts, natural
disasters were frequently seen as manifestations of divine wrath that necessitated
extraordinary ritual responses to quell. These responses frequently consisted in
intensified forms of sacred violence, the most extreme of which was human sacrifice.
The corpus of Greek literature is rife with myths of human sacrifice. In spite of this rich
mythic repertoire, Greek artists produced scenes of human sacrifice rather infrequently
and drew upon an extremely restricted range of subjects. The extant corpus of human
sacrificial images totals fewer than 50 specimens and almost all of them feature the
maidens Polyxena or Iphigeneia as the victim. In the Archaic era (700-480 BCE),
painters and sculptors were almost exclusively interested in the sacrificial fate of
Polyxena. Archaic representations of Polyxena’s sacrifice are remarkable for their overt
treatment of the physical violence to which the maiden was subjected, in some cases
going so far as to visualize the blood gushing forth from her perforated neck. Interest
in the violent and gory aspect of the sacrificial ritual diminishes in the closing decades
of the Archaic period. The title of the proposed talk, bad blood, has a twofold sense;
both senses refer to the underlying subject of belief and to the main arguments of this
paper: The first sense is idiomatic and indicative: Polyxena’s sacrifice was a matter of
bad blood, since it resulted from the need to placate the wroth and aggrieved ghost of
Achilles, who denied the Greeks safe passage home until he was granted the spoils due
to him (cf. Eur. Hek. 35-44; Quint. Smyr 14.324-338). The second, more literal sense
is interrogative: To wit, was the shedding of Polyxena’s blood bad per se? While Greek
authors of the Classical period and beyond suggest that human sacrifice was universally
condemned as an unthinkably barbaric offense and a violation of ritual norms, earlier
extant literary sources offer no such clear ruling. However, this situation changes when
the small yet iconographically remarkable group of pre-Classical visual representations
of human sacrifice are considered. In these images, one may detect a diversity of
attitudes or positions on the ritual of human sacrifice, individual as well as collective,
that range from acceptance to outright repudiation. This range of attitudes is not,
however, neatly confined to the proverbial frame of the image or the mythical context
of the event. Like the mythic cast of characters, contemporary ancient viewers were
meant to participate in the discursive dynamic, bringing their individual beliefs and
attitudes to bear on the scene and its significance. In other words, these representations
imply a multiplicity of attitudes (and the beliefs that inform them) among the implied
viewers of these artworks.
Session 3Belief in the Pauline Corpus 4
(Moderator: David Johnston)
Jakson Atkins, University of St Andrews
Temples and Sex: Resolving Exegetical Difficulties in 1Thess 4 in Light of Hellenistic
Beliefs 
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