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Re-presenting and re-defining the Other through the Ages: images, objects and texts in interreligious encounter - Antiquity and Middle Ages (1/2)

Panel Chairs: Daniela Bonanno, Paola von Wyss-Giacosa | Friday, August 28, 1:30-3 p.m. | Venue

Since antiquity, the confrontation with the Other has been an extraordinarily productive and effective laboratory for the construction of self-identity. Self is banally defined both in relation and in opposition to an often marginalized, or discredited, or even worse, demonized otherness. Within the framework of a more general debate about the relationship between identity and alterity, the participants in this panel will focus their attention specifically on the function that images, objects and texts play in the encounter with the Other. The main questions, posed both synchronically and diachronically, are: which representations of the Other do these media transmit as they are taken from one cultural context to another, or possibly from one religious system to another? What emotions are viewing or reading them meant to elicit and what reactions do they actually provoke? How do these media modify an image of the Other or a system of ideas?

Daniela Bonanno

Looking like Aphrodite, punishing like Nemesis. Greek manners of representing otherness – a case study from ancient Rhamnus

There are two traditions concerning the Rhamnusian Nemesis, whose iconography looks different from other images of the goddess in the Greek world: Pausanias reports that Phidias made the statue from a piece of marble which the Persians, sure of conquering Athens, had brought along at the time of the battle of Marathon to build a trophy. Pliny, on the other hand, states that the statue was originally an Aphrodite, sculpted by Agoracritus of Paros in a competition with the Athenian Alkamenes. Because the Athenians gave the victory to their fellow-citizen, Agoracritus indignantly sold his work to the Rhamnusians, calling it Nemesis. In the first account thus, a stone brought by the “barbarian” Persians is reused by the Greeks. In the second, the individual revenge of a xenos against Athens leads to the re-functionalization of a statue. Taking this as case study, the paper aims to show how, in a religious context, the same object and its story may be reinvented in order to serve specific needs in the representation of self and other.

Francesco Massa

The Mystery cults and Christian constructions of the other in Eusebius of Caesarea

Regardless of the changes, which take place in the first half of the fourth century, Christians carry on living in a multi-cultural and multi-religious empire, while conflicts against enemies inside and outside the Empire contribute to define the borders of their religious identity.

Aim of this study is to investigate the role of Greek and Roman mystery cults in the works of Eusebius of Caesarea: on the one hand, they represent one of the main controversies of the Praeparatio evangelica; on the other hand, in Demonstratio evangelica and in the Life of Constantine, the author takes advantage of the language of the mystery cults in order to speak about rites (baptism and eucharist) and Christian doctrines. The example of mystery cults allows to illustrate how, by creating a construction of the Other, Christians think and model their own identity, in an uninterrupted exchange between religious competitions and identity constructions.

Daniel Barbu

Normative inversion: On Jesus and the Origins of Christianity in the Toledoth Yeshu

The Jewish Life of Jesus (Toledoth Yeshu) is a fundamental text to think about Jewish perceptions of the nature and origins of Christianity, the foremost religious "Other" for medieval and early modern European Jews. The Toledoth Yeshu provides us with an unusual and mischievous narrative of the life of Jesus and of the history of the early Church. According to this “anti-Gospel,” Jesus was an illegitimate child (a mamzer) who managed to trick the crowds of Galilee by usurping magical powers and working pretence miracles. His deceptions revealed, he was condemned to death and hanged. His followers, however, continued to stir up trouble in Israel: they were thus cut loose from the rest of the people by Jewish “double-agents” who gave them laws and customs contrary to Judaism, hence transforming them into a separate religion, i.e. Christianity. The foundational myths of the Christian tradition are here overturned and replaced by a “counter-history,” inverting the respective power positions of Judaism and Christianity. In this paper, I will seek to explore some knots between emotion and identity in the Toledoth Yeshu, and try to assess anti-Christian feelings among medieval and early-modern Jews--that is, the social and emotional construction of inter-religious detestation.


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