1st Edition

Acting Gods, Playing Heroes, and the Interaction between Judaism, Christianity, and Greek Drama in the Early Common Era

By Courtney J. P. Friesen Copyright 2024
    180 Pages 11 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    While many ancient Jewish and Christian leaders voiced opposition to Greek and Roman theater, this volume demonstrates that by the time the public performance of classical drama ceased at the end of antiquity the ideals of Jews and Christians had already been shaped by it in profound and lasting ways.

    Readers are invited to explore how gods and heroes famous from Greek drama animated the imaginations of ancient individuals and communities as they articulated and reinvented their religious visions for a new era. In this study, Friesen demonstrates that Greek theater’s influence is evident within Jewish and Christian intellectual formulations, narrative constructions, and practices of ritual and liturgy. Through a series of interrelated case studies, the book examines how particular plays, through texts and performances, scenes, images, and heroic personae, retained appeal for Jewish and Christian communities across antiquity. The volume takes an interdisciplinary approach involving classical, Jewish, and Christian studies, and brings together these separate avenues of scholarship to produce fresh insights and a reevaluation of theatrical drama in relation to ancient Judaism and Christianity.

    Acting Gods, Playing Heroes, and the Interaction between Judaism, Christianity, and Greek Drama in the Early Common Era allows students and scholars of the diverse and evolving religious landscapes of antiquity to gain fresh perspectives on the interplay between the gods and heroes—both human and divine—of Greeks and Romans, Jews and Christians as they were staged in drama and depicted in literature.

    1. Theater and/as Ritual: Introduction to the State of the Question(s) and Scope of the Study; 2. A Tale of Two Cities’ Theaters: From Athens to Jerusalem; 3. The Drama of Debating Gods (and Their Existence): Lucian of Samosata and Philo of Alexandria on Creation and Providence; 4. Gods on Stage and Gods in Heaven: Fragments of Atheism in Sextus Empiricus and Pseudo-Justin; 5. Laughing at/with Heracles: Philo of Alexandria on Freedom and Virtue; 6. Atonement and Resurrection as the Denouement of Euripides’ Alcestis; 7. From Tragic Heroines to Religious Martyrs: The Afterlife of Polyxena between Philo and Clement of Alexandria; 8. Deus ex Machina: Concluding Thoughts on Dramatic Closure.


    Courtney J. P. Friesen is Associate Professor of Religious Studies and Classics at the University of Arizona where he teaches classical Greek and courses on the New Testament, early Christianity, and Greek and Roman culture. His first book, Reading Dionysus (2015), explored ancient receptions of Euripides’ Bacchae.