Published online by Cambridge University Press: 08 March 2010
The chapters in this volume approach from various angles the different but related problems of identity and its boundaries, sectarianism, persecution, coexistence and Kulturkampf among Jews and Christians, in the Hellenistic world and under the early Empire. This was a world of competing and conflicting identities. Ethnic and religious groups, living in many ways according to similar life patterns, were at the same time involved in deep, even radical, arguments with one another (and among themselves) about religious truth and error, and about the components of their own identity versus outsiders of all sorts.
These chapters do not offer an overarching thesis or grand theory on religious tolerance and intolerance in ancient monotheistic religions. Since Edward Gibbon – perhaps even since Julian the Apostate – it has often been claimed that religious intolerance lies in the very nature of monotheism: to one single God corresponds one single truth, while all other views of the divinity reflect intellectual and moral error, and end in idolatry. The simplistic character of such a position has often been submitted to sharp criticism: polytheistic religions, too, could show clear signs of intolerance, while in many ways Christian and Jewish patterns of thought and behaviour reflected a tolerant attitude vis-a-vis outsiders. The purpose of this book is neither to refute nor to substantiate what can be called the neo-pagan conception of an inherent monotheistic intolerance.