Tacitus in Calgary

Although blog posts have been sparse as of late, it’s not without good reason: I’ve been working hard on my grad school courses. Needless to say, this takes a lot of time and attention!

Luckily, the hard work appears to be paying off and 2016 is off to a good start! I am happy to announce that I will be presenting a paper at this year’s Religion & History Graduate Student Conference which is held by the Department of Classics & Religion at the University of Calgary. The conference takes place on April 14th and 15th.

My paper focuses on Tacitus’ Histories, specifically book five, and the anti-Judean content in his discussion of the ritual of Sukkot. Here’s the abstract:

Refutatio Romana:
The Political Dimensions of Religious Difference in Tacitus’ Histories 5.5

The Roman historian Tacitus coined the phrase interpretatio Romana to describe his attempts to understand foreign religion within a Roman framework. This strategy of cultural translation, however, is abandoned in his discussion of the Judeans in book five of the Histories. Although Tacitus is confronted with several opportunities to bring Judean and Roman religion into sympathetic conversation, he instead draws an acrimonious picture of Judean ritual. This religious alterity is especially seen in his characterization of the celebration of Sukkot, a festival he describes as “absurd and filthy” in contrast with the joyous practices of the Roman god Liber. Using Sukkot as a lens for Tacitus’ discussion of the Judeans, this paper seeks to answer a significant, but often overlooked question implicit in Tacitus’ discussion: Why is Judean religion portrayed with such hostility? This paper argues that Tacitus’ rhetoric underscores the identity politics at work within this treatise, and moreover serves a larger political function which reflects unprecedented imperial goals in Judea. On the one hand, Tacitus’ rhetoric sits within a larger milieu of Roman discourse on the Judeans, but this discourse also held political possibilities: the unfavourable portrayal of the Judeans legitimated a uniquely religious conquest of the region as centered on the temple locus. By examining the historical context of religious alterity in the Histories we can better understand this puzzling turn in Tacitus’ portrayal of foreign religion.

I am eager to present this paper since it has a little bit of something for everyone. The event itself is free, so if you are in Calgary and want to lean a bit about Tacitus, feel free to stop by!

Photo courtesy the University of Calgary.