Drudgery Divine: On the Comparison of Early Christianities and the Religions of Late Antiquity
By Jonathan Z. Smith
University of Chicago Press: 1990
Reviewed by T Polyphilus
- “On the Origin of Origins” begins the discussion, using the Jefferson-Adams correspondence on religious topics as a point of departure. It also orients around the writings of Priestly and Dupuis, and pinpoints the question of Christian origins in “Protestant anti-Catholic apologetics.”
- “On Comparison” is a largely methodological piece, that incisively outlines the gambits of uniqueness and genealogy that have served the agendas of Protestant polemic and Christian supremacism in previous work on the topic.
- “On Comparing Words” discusses the philological arguments to date, and their subservience to theological efforts. Quite happily for me, Smith chose to use the term mysterion for illustrative purposes throughout this section. Among other things, I learned about the ancient Greek pun attributed by Athenaios to Dionysos Tyrannos: mysterion = mus terein, “mouseholes!” (p. 56 n)
- “On Comparing Stories” has a quick survey of “pagan Christs” literature, before focusing in on Frazer's 'dying and rising' god motif, and its application to Christianity in the work of Pfleiderer; then a discussion of the problems of data for historically-oriented comparisons.
- “On Comparing Settings” applies all of the foregoing to the question, along with Smith's locative/utopian distinction. Smith's confessed appreciation for and dependence on the Christian origins work of Burton Mack is clearest in this section.
Smith writes, “The Protestant hegemony over the enterprise of comparing the religions of Late Antiquity and early Christianities has been an affair of mythic conception and ritual practice from the outset.” Aleister Crowley's Gospel According to St. Bernard Shaw is a “comparison of Christianity to the religions of Late Antiquity,” and it still deserves that valuation, despite its opposition to the Protestant hegemony. Crowley was fighting fire with fire. It was not “a thorough revaluation of the purposes of comparison” in service to “the scholarly imagination of religion,” as Smith would prefer. But Crowley's tack adds an additional dimension to the history of the enterprise, and for those who wish to soldier on in the mythic and ritual battlefields, Smith's book is a stone that will sharpen any sword that can hold the edge.
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