Emotional Rescue: Idolatry and Affective Conversion in 1 Corinthians 8-10
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Emotional Rescue: Idolatry and Affective Conversion in 1 Corinthians 8-10

  • Author(s): Evans, Marshall McKee
  • Advisor(s): Thomas, Christine M
  • et al.

Although the significance of animal sacrifice in ancient Greek religion has long been recognized, the significance of images of the gods, both anthropomorphic and non-anthropomorphic, has been often overlooked, and certainly undertheorized. Focusing on images of the gods in ancient Greek religion as objects of piety solves several problems. First, analyzing the role of images of the gods in ancient Greek religious practice exposes a whole host of religious attitudes and beliefs frequently rejected or even mocked by many of the literate elite who composed the majority of the texts that serve as our primary sources for ancient Greek religion. Second, a focus on the significance of images on the gods in late Hellenistic and early Imperial Greece underscores the role these objects played in the apocalyptic literature of Judaism, and in the preaching of Paul of Tarsus. The opening chapter explains the scholarly neglect of images of gods as significant objects of piety by analyzing some prominent 19th and early 20th century theorists of religion, including Max Müller, Edward Tylor, Robertson Smith, and Jane Ellen Harrison. Smith's recognition of the intimate relationship between images of gods and their worshippers offers a way forward for understanding the significance of images of the gods in ancient Greek and Roman religion. The second and third chapters analyze the language used to describe worship dependent upon images of the gods in two ancient Greek novels, Pausanias, and 1 Corinthians. Comparison of pagan and Pauline discourse for images suggests first century pagans and Paul had more in common in the ways they regard images of gods than has been acknowledged. The last chapter maps the significance of the similarities and differences between pagan and Pauline discourse for images of the gods. It argues that the prevalence of images in early Christian worship spaces, as well as pagan domestic and social spaces, suggests avoiding interaction with images of the gods would have been virtually impossible. Paul uses apocalyptic language to mark these images of the gods as perilous and to bring about an emotional conversion in the former pagans whose habits, experiences, and memories have been inextricably tied to them.

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