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Incense Offerings in the Syriac Transitus Mariae: Ritual and Knowledge in Ancient Christianity

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Chapter Summary

Post-Constantinian Christianity developed an increasingly elaborate liturgical and devotional life including the addition of ritual patterns and activities drawn from sacrificial traditions common across the Mediterranean world. The Christian use of incense after several centuries without it could not be entirely continuous with the ancient traditions of Judaism or Greek and Roman religions. This chapter discusses the sacrificial image of incense offering and explores the ways in which its meanings and significations expanded for the church in the fifth and sixth centuries as its Christian usage became normative. It considers the striking instance of incense imagery in the Syriac Transitus Mariae. Emerging first as a religion that defined itself against its religious contexts, both Jewish and Greco-Roman, Christianity in its earliest centuries was the only religion of the ancient Mediterranean to exclude the use of incense from its worship rituals.

Keywords: Christianity; Greek religion; incense; Roman religion; Syriac Transitus Mariae



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