The province of Arabia as a late antiquity-solution

In this project the history of Christianity in the province of Arabia is examined as a part of its religious history in late antiquity. Using a religio-geographic approach, the project looks for continuities, transformations and ruptures in religious practices within the region. Other stages are concerned with inter-religious exchange and communication processes, the role of Christianity within the provincial culture system as well as the participation of the province in the empire-wide structures and standardisation processes of the Roman oikumene. The fundamental insight here is the recognition that the region is a complex and somewhat disparate area, but indubitably a highly-developed and distinct cultural space. This stands in stark contrast to the stereotype prevalent from the period until modern times of a rather undifferentiated group of Arabs regarded as predacious and altogether uncultivated. As the first known bishop of the region was referred to as the “Bishop of the Arabs of Bostra”, the question of the late-antiquity meaning of the ethnic designation must also examined in the current project. The time period that is the primary focus of this project is the third to sixth century.

An initial field of inquiry will therefore be a religio-geographic survey of the province of Arabia in the third century. Only against the backdrop of this situational survey can the religious change processes be recognised in the further course of the work and be understood properly in the religious-historical context. A fundamental premise as we proceed is that in the period of transformation of religious traditions, as was primarily the case in the fourth and fifth centuries in Arabia, it is necessary to distinguish between religiously normative influences and concrete religious practice. The study will also seek to clearly place in context specific cults within the cultural landscape of the province. This includes looking at the distinct religious practice of different ethnic groups and milieus.

Once Christianity has been examined in this field of inquiry in terms of its interactions with other cults, the second field of inquiry will look at the history of Christianity in the province in relations to the church across the empire as a whole. Only three areas from this field will be discussed here: The first area is concerned with the beginnings of Christianity in the province and above all the role of Origen in the local organisation of the church and formation of a theological consensus. A second area is occupied by the most important theologian in the province in the fourth century, Titus of Bostra. Both his role in the conflict between Christians and Emperor Julian as well as for the dimensions of his work against the Manicheans which were specific to the location must be fleshed out in greater detail through comparison with contemporary Egyptian and Syrian authors. A third area is the question of the relationship between the late-antiquity confessionalisations and the emergence of ethnic group identities. For the investigated period, this question concerns the relationship of Chalcedonian and non-Chalcedonian (so-called “Monophysite”) Christian communities in the sixth century and their affinity to social or ethnic groups (country and city population; provincial or Ghassanid Arabs).

Project manager
Christoph Markschies

Project duration