Research seminar “The War of the Sons of the Light against the Sons of Darkness: The Other in Abrahamic Religions in Antiquity ”
On 8 April, 2020, the online session “The War of the Sons of the Light against the Sons of Darkness: The Other in Abrahamic Religions in Antiquity ” from the series of the seminars of the research group “Languages for Describing the Other in Early Modern Europe: Social Contexts and Repertoires of Interpretation” was held.
During the session the participants discussed the peculiarities of Biblical ethnography, reception of its topoi and reflection on sacred history in early modern time. The seminar was opened by the paper by Daniil Pleshak, doctoral student of the Faculty of Philology of Saint Petersburg State University.
Pleshak examined the peculiarities of construction of ethnicity and the evolution of perceptions about it in Judaism and early Christianity. Unlike ancient polytheism, which entailed diversity of religious life and various ideas of the sacred, monotheism was striving for unification in terms of cult, creed and attitudes of the believers to one another and to others. The contrast between “godly” and “ungodly”, or between “chosen people” and “pagans” was integral for monotheistic religions.
The paper raised the issue of the formation of the text of the Old Testament before and after Babylonian captivity. Deportation and life far away from historical motherland in the middle of polyethnic empire influenced the emergence of the ideology of chosen people and the creation of the texts concentrated on confrontation between Hebrews and non-Hebrews. The difference between these two groups was defined by identification of the former with believers in the only one god, and the latter — with the heathens.
Christianisation of the Roman Empire led to its adoption as a part of imperial ideology. Since the third century Christian rhetoric began to prevail in imperial propaganda, and in the sixth century laid out the foundations of imperial language of identity. Particularly, the final war between Rome and the Sassanids was described as the war between Christianity with the forces of darkness and chaos. This conflict served as a pattern for the creation of the idea of the Crusades in Latin Europe and influenced the emergence of Muslim concept of holy war.
Fragments dedicated to ethnicity from Old Testament and New Testament and a chapter from Colin Kidd’s book British identities before nationalism: ethnicity and nationhood in the Atlantic world, 1600 – 1800, were discussed after the presentation. The participants of the seminar made a conclusion about the persistence of topoi of biblical ethnography in early modern ethnographic narratives and the significance of sacred history in structuring of the worldview.