Christianity, Book-Burning and Censorship in Late Antiquity
Studies in Text Transmission
370 pages, 6.00 x 9.00 in
- 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
this is a useful introduction to an interesting topic~David Woods, Journal of Theological Studies
It has been argued that only a very small fraction of ancient literature has survived, perhaps less than one per cent, while pointing fingers at Christians in the Late Antique period as the usual suspects. It is one thing to state but quite another to demonstrate. With a commanding knowledge of the sources, Dirk Rohmann undertakes a forensic investigation of the relationship between Christianity and book-burning specifically and censorship more generally.~Thomas A. Fudge, Journal of Religious History
"…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
This is a fascinating study. Rohmann has provided students of Christianity with one of the most engaging studies I have yet read. The topic is captivating and the development of the subject is meticulous and wise. This book is literally packed with important historical details which fill in the gaps about an early Christian practice which raises eyebrows among those who may not know the whence and why of book burning. It ought to be read by those with an interest in the intellectual history of the early Church and by those with a fondness for the peculiarities of some Christian practices~Jim West, Reading Religion
Aufgrund der Materialfülle ist das Buch lesenswert.~Alexander Weiß, Historische Zeitschrift
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
At its best, his writing has the soft touch of an ethnographer. Indeed, this monograph enthralled me whenever Rohmann concentrated on reconstructing the social world of Late Roman censorship.~Nathan J. Ristuccia, Fides Et Historia
"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
A detailed and wide-ranging study of the effects of Christianity on the survival of classical literature.~Larry Hurtado Blog
At its best, [Rohmann’s] writing has the soft touch of an ethnographer. Indeed, this monograph enthralled me whenever Rohmann concentrated on reconstructing the social world of Late Roman censorship.~Nathan J. Ristuccia, Fides Et Historia