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Me, My God and I: The Individual as Recipient of Divine Epiphanies (2/2)

A160
Panel Chair: Georgia Petridou | Tuesday, August 25, 9-11 a.m.

Epiphany is of cardinal importance for both modern and ancient religious systems. A selective group of scholars from diverse methodological backgrounds and with a wide range of expertise in the history of art, archaeology, history of religions, and social and political anthropology have come together to investigate the relatively unexplored issue of the individual’s involvement with the divine in its most intimate and definitive form, that of a divine epiphany. The main focus of our panel is to ascertain, on the one hand, the impact and transformative effect these meetings with the divine have had for the chosen few and their respective communities. On the other hand, these much-prized close encounters with the divine often function as authorisation tools which invest their recipients with the authority to contest pre-established power structures and proceed with more or less radical actions or political or religious revisionism. A Roundtable discussion (40 mins in duration) of the four individual papers will give the participants the opportunity to address their questions to the individual speakers or the panel as a whole.

Markus Vinzent

Epiphany: The Aitiology of Christianity

The beginnings of Christianity are usually narrated in form of a historical account, based on what is distilled as historical information from the New Testament and the few historiographical data excerpted from non-Christian sources. Especially what is found in Paul's letters and the canonical Gospels provides the basis for this scholarly narrative with the result that Christ's resurrection is advanced as the starting point and the beginning of Christianity. Yet, as I have shown in past attempts, this does not match the findings in our ancient sources where epiphany or incarnation typologies prevail. The paper will question the 'historical' nature of both the sources and the scholarly account, highlight the importance of epiphany for the earliest narrations of the beginnings of Christianity, and outline an alternative scholarly story of the aitiology of Christianity, based not on the resurrection of Christ, but on epiphany, stressing the figurative or metaphoric nature of our sources critical of a historical foundation.

Julia Kindt

What’s the Stuff of Divinity? Oracular Narratives as Epiphanic Tales

This paper takes Pausanias’ account of Theagenes’ multiple entanglements with oracles and statues (Paus. 6.11.2-9) as its point of departure to reflect on the way in which oracle stories serve as epiphanic tales. In particular, the paper illustrates that the status of these stories qua stories is indeed central to the kind of theological questions these tales are able to flag. Overall I argue that the story of Theagenes serves as an aetiological story, which is based on a problematic concept of causation, which raises more questions about the nature of divinity, than it is ultimately prepared to answer. This paper takes Pausanias’ account of Theagenes’ multiple entanglements with oracles and statues (Paus. 6.11.2-9) as its point of departure to reflect on the way in which oracle stories serve as epiphanic tales. In particular, the paper illustrates that the status of these stories qua stories is indeed central to the kind of theological questions these tales are able to flag. Overall I argue that the story of Theagenes serves as an aetiological story, which is based on a problematic concept of causation, which raises more questions about the nature of divinity, than it is ultimately prepared to answer.

Valentino Gasparini

Listening Stones: Isiac Carved Auricles As Signifiers Activating Human-Divine Communication

In a recent article (“Isis’ Footprints. The Petrosomatoglyphs as Spacial Indicators of Human-Divine Encounters”) published in a volume edited by the organizers of this panel, I suggested that dedications of carved footprints should be interpreted as polysemic visual operators of human-divine communication. I would like now to focus on apparently similar petrosomatoglyphs representing other body parts, namely ears. After carefully examining the whole available documentation (around twenty items) and – where possible – its precise archaeological context, I aim to display how these signifiers differed from other dedications – the dedication of footprints is an open process with a much wider operational value than the one of ears – and explore the common capacity of feet- and ear-shaped dedications to activate the communication between gods (as epēkooi) and humans. Never accompanied by elaborated inscriptions, both these types of carvings (usually placed at the entrance of the temple, in particular at the foot of its staircase) magnified – through anthropomorphic representations – what Vernant would call the “puissance divine”, proclaimed the divine epiphanic presence and willingness to hear the devotees’ prayers, and offered to individuals different options in constructing a scenario for their encounters with the gods.

Annette Weissenrieder

Paradise Interpreted

In the midst of a self-defense against his opponents in Corinth, the apostle Paul alludes to the epiphany he had experienced fourteen years ago, in which he was caught up to the third heaven into paradise (2 Cor 12:1-8). There in paradise, he heard and has seen things “no mortal is permitted to repeat.” If we consider that each epiphany occurs at what Fritz Graf terms a “crisis situation,” than the context of the epiphany is interesting: Paul demonstrates a clear connection between rhetoric and illness, though with his own emphasis. Here, illness is the subject of boasting, for it is here that Christ particularly reveals himself and makes God’s attending to Paul, the hearing of his prayer, clear. However, rhetoric, emotional engagement and communications about illness are not mutually exclusive here – on the contrary. The polished rhetoric, using the ancient topos of the tearful letter, is an expression of this same emotionality. The power of the rhetoric with which Paul draws on the topoi of the tearful letter, and the physical presence of the read word, open up the emotionality of his statements.

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