Commemorating the Dead: Texts and Artifacts in Context

Commemorating the Dead: Texts and Artifacts in Context 
The Shohet Conference on Roman, Jewish and Christian Burials

May 22-24, 2005 The University of Chicago Divinity School Swift Hall, 1025 East 58th Street, Chicago, Illinois

As Church historian Robert M. Grant noted more than thirty years ago:

The early history of Christianity is Roman history, and I should claim that Roman history itself needs the collaboration of those who try to relate the Christian movement to the whole life of the Empire, not explaining everything Christian in Roman terms or everything Roman in Christian terms but trying to understand identities, similarities, and differences (R.M. Grant, Introduction to The Catacombs and the Colosseum, ed. Stephen Benko and John J. O'Rourke [Valley Forge: Judson Press, 1971] 24).

One arena in which Roman historians and scholars of Early Christianity may share equal footing is investigations of Roman burials. The distinctions and similarities among pagan, Christian, and Jewish burials can provide evidence of social networks, family life, and, perhaps, religious sensibilities. Did Christians practice inhumation in imitation of the Jews or was this an expression of an early Christian theology of resurrection? What Greco-Roman funerary images were taken over and "baptized" as Christian ones? Do the material remains from Jewish burials evidence an adherence to or disregard of Mishnaic regulations? Is the development from columbaria to catacombs the result of evolving religious identities or simply a matter of a change in burial fashions? These questions and others will be addressed at Commemorating the Dead: Texts and Artifacts in Context-The Shohet Conference on Roman, Jewish and Christian Burials.

Investigating the emergence of a distinct Christian or Jewish material culture within, from and beside general Roman practices requires that material culture be viewed, whenever possible, in situ, through multiple disciplinary lenses and in light of ancient texts. Scholars of Roman history, archaeology, Jewish Studies, Christian history and the New Testament engaged in two weeks of field research in Rome and Tunisia, bringing their different methodologies to bear on the catacombs, necropoli and museum artifacts.

The results of their research will be presented at the conference, where-- in order to foster interdisciplinary conversation among the next generation of scholars--doctoral students in complementary fields will be the respondents.

Presenters:

David Balch, Brite Divinity School, Houses of the Dead and of the Living: Endymion in Earliest Christian and in Roman Art

John Bodel, Brown University, From Columbarium to Catacomb:
Communities of the Dead in Pagan and Christian Rome

Deborah Green, University of Oregon, Sweet Spices in the Tomb: 
An Initial Study on the Use of Perfume in Jewish Burials

Amy Hirschfeld, International Catacomb Society, The Intellectual History of Catacomb Archaeology

Robin M. Jensen, Vanderbilt Divinity School, Dining with the Dead

Margaret M. Mitchell, University of Chicago, The Abercius Inscription: Envisioning Context and Meaning

Carolyn Osiek, Brite Divinity School, The Patronage of Women and Roman and Christian Burial Practices

Richard Saller, University of Chicago, Introduction and Synthesis of the Project

Susan T. Stevens, Randolph-Macon Woman's College, The Mortuary Landscape of Roman and post-Roman Carthage (1st-7th c AD)

Andrew Wallace-Hadrill, The British School at Rome, Housing the Roman Dead

The Larger Context:

The conference is part of a two-year interdisciplinary endeavor to investigate, read and interpret inscriptional remains and catacombs in light of Roman, Jewish and early Christian texts. Roman Burial and Memorial Practices and Earliest Christianity: Reading Texts and Inscriptions in Context is supported by a fellowship from the International Catacomb Society (http://www.catacombsociety.org/). Laurie Brink, O.P., project director, received the first Shohet Fellowship from ICS and initiated the project, which will culminate in a publication of the conference papers.

The goals of this project are:

• to study burial epitaphs and their iconography along with the art work of the catacombs, in order to investigate the emergence of early Christianity within its various religious and socio-historic contexts; and
• to foster an environment where scholars talk across the divide of disciplines so as 
• to pave the way for future collaborative efforts among the next generation of scholars.

In addition to the sponsorship by the Divinity School of the University of Chicago, the following institutions have supported this project either through their faculty's participation or gifts in-kind:

• The British School at Rome
• Brown University; Providence, RI
• Brite Divinity School; Texas Christian University, Forth Worth, TX
• Catholic Theological Union; Chicago, IL
• Randolph-Macon Woman's College; Lynchburg, VA
• University of Chicago Department of New Testament and Early Christian Literature; Chicago, IL
• University of Oregon; Eugene, OR
• Vanderbilt University Divinity School; Nashville, TN