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In this book, eminent scholars of classical antiquity and ancient and medieval Judaism and Christianity explore the nature and place of forgiveness in the pre-modern Western world. They discuss whether the concept of forgiveness, as it is often understood today, was absent, or at all events more restricted in scope than has been commonly supposed, and what related ideas (such as clemency or reconciliation) may have taken the place of forgiveness. An introductory chapter reviews the conceptual territory of forgiveness and illuminates the potential breadth of the idea, enumerating the important questions a theory of the subject should explore. The following chapters examine forgiveness in the contexts of classical Greece and Rome; the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud, and Moses Maimonides; and the New Testament, the Church Fathers, and Thomas Aquinas.


‘When and how did forgiveness become recognized as a moral attribute? The question has vexed - and divided - commentators for some years. This book admirably addresses the question in a series of wide-ranging chapters by a variety of experts. The editors have done the world of scholarship a great service by offering what I believe are now the definitive answers.’

Anthony Bash - Durham University

‘This volume, edited by two experts on forgiveness, is a rich and timely work treating the emotion and different conceptions of it in the ancient Greek, Roman, and Judeo-Christian traditions. Much recent work on emotions in antiquity has focused on anger, and so turning to this contrasting emotion is particularly welcome. It should appeal to graduate students and scholars in classics, philosophy, religious studies, and Judaic studies.’

Ruth Caston - University of Michigan

‘My previous work on forgiveness has been solidly in the analytic philosophical tradition, and this splendid collection has taught me how much that work can be improved by understanding the history of the concepts and emotions involved in forgiveness and its close relatives. Two distinguished scholars have invited … scholars of comparable distinction to contribute essays that discuss the history of forgiveness (or what might mistakenly be taken as forgiveness if we hastily project contemporary understandings) from ancient Greece and Rome, through medieval Judaism, and concluding with Aquinas. This book confirms L. P. Hartley’s famous remark that ‘the past is a foreign country: they do things differently there’ and reveals this foreign country as a fascinating place from which all who are interested in forgiveness can learn a great deal.’

Jeffrie G. Murphy - Arizona State University

‘This book seeks to reveal the relationship between conceptual and historical inquiry. Its excellent chapters offer, through a series of well-chosen examples, an illuminating promenade from Homer to Maimonides and Thomas Aquinas, through Seneca, Jesus and the Rabbis, on a topic of at once perennial and contemporary great significance. The book opens up new vistas for the interdisciplinary study of the roots of Western cultural tropes. It is significant, in particular, that the editors, a classicist and a philosopher, recognize the necessity to integrate Jewish and Christian approaches, side by side with the Greco-Roman tradition, in order to decipher our own cultural inheritance.’

Guy Stroumsa - Oxford University

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