Christianity, Book-Burning and Censorship in Late Antiquity
Studies in Text Transmission
370 pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
- ISBN: 9781481307826
- Published: October 2017
Only a small fraction of ancient literature survives—less than one percent, estimates reveal. While the reasons vary, it is an irony that Christianity, often regarded as responsible for the proliferation and spread of books and book culture, was likewise active in suppressing and destroying books in Late Antiquity.
Author Dirk Rohmann assembles the evidence for the role played in book-burning by Christian institutions, writers, and saints during the Roman Empire. Rohmann analyzes a broad range of literary and legal sources, paying special attention to which genres and book types were likely to be targeted. Rohmann concludes that, in addition to heretical, magical, astrological, and anti-Christian books, other less obviously subversive categories of literature were also vulnerable to destruction and censorship through prohibition of manuscript copying. These texts included works from materialistic philosophical traditions, texts that were to become the basis for modern philosophy and science.
While book-burning functioned as a recognized cultural practice, and Rohmann acknowledges the wide variety of motivations at work in the various practices of censorship, he ultimately asks to what extent Christian book-burning and accompanying practices negatively affected the survival of pagan and pre-Christian literary and philosophical texts. Christianity’s rejection, even obliteration, of books—so contrary to its own worldview—testifies both to the perilous nature of texts in transmission as well as to the enduring cultural and ideological power of the written word.
Rohmann has richly and innovatively researched his topic. This is a book from which specialists will learn much, and yet it will be a fascinating tour for the general student of late antiquity and early Christian history. A tour de force of principled scholarship.~David Lyle Jeffrey, Distinguished Professor of Literature and the Humanities, Baylor University
"…Rohmann’s work is a well-researched academic study drawing upon an impressive number of sources, including Christian and pagan authors, as well as legal documents, both Roman and ecclesiastical…[It] will certainly be of interest not only to the scholars and students of late antiquity but also to a broader audience interested in the history of the written word."~Evgenia Moiseeva, Review of Biblical Literature
"Rohmann’s book does an excellent job of demonstrating that although a disproportionate amount of non-Christian written work was lost during late antiquity the reason for this loss was not the coercive book-burning advocated by popular lore. Although acknowledging that actual book-burning did occur Rohmann places the book-burning into context and provides a viable explanation for the significantly disproportionate loss of non-Christian materials through this period. The footnotes and bibliography provide valuable resources for the reader."~Joseph Baumstarck, Jr., The Christian Librarian
Das Buch stellt als erste ausführliche Behandlung einer kaum gewürdigten Thematik einen wichtigen Beitrag dar…Es handelt sich um die erste systematische und umfassende Studie zu dieser Thematik und nicht nur gemessen daran hat Rohmann gute Arbeit geleistet.~Raphael Brendel, Bryn Mawr Classical Review