Zu Hauptinhalt springen
Startseite UR

Insider Doubt


Regensburg, 18-20 October 2017, PT 4.1.63

"Test Everything": Sceptic and Believer in Ancient Mediterranean Religions

A Jointly Sponsored Conference on "Insider Doubt" in Christianity and Ancient Mediterranean Religions

Veranstaltet vom Lehrstuhl für Alte Geschichte (Prof. Dr. Babett Edelmann-Singer) und dem Lehrstuhl für Exegese und Hermeneutik des Neuen Testaments (Prof. Dr. Tobias Nicklas)

Gefördert von der Regensburger Universitätsstiftung Hans Vielberth und der Lucia und Dr. Otfried Eberz-Stiftung

Ist die kritische Distanz zu Aspekten der eigenen religiösen Tradition ein Phänomen der Neuzeit?
Die Konferenz beschäftigt sich mit verschiedensten Formen antiker Religion und der Frage, inwiefern Skepsis und Zweifel an der eigenen religiösen Tradition eine Rolle spielten. Die TeilnehmerInnen werden in ihren Vorträgen und Diskussionen danach fragen, welche Inhalte konkret bezweifelt wurden, in welchen Kontexten und in Bezug auf welche Inhalte Zweifel oder Skepsis akzeptabel waren oder wie Zweifel und Skepsis innerhalb einer religiösen Gemeinschaft zum Ausdruck gebracht wurden. Ferner wird es auch um die Reaktionen gehen, die Zweifel auslösten, und um die Frage, inwiefern sich Zweifel unter Anhängern einer religiösen Tradition von jenen der Außenstehenden oder gar Gegner unterschieden?

Die Tagung, die einen komparatistischen Ansatz verfolgt, umfasst eine Zeitskala vom Klassischen Griechenland bis in die Hohe Kaiserzeit (5. Jh. v.Chr. bis Ende des 2. Jh. n.Chr.). Durch die Teilnahme von VertreterInnen unterschiedlichster Wissenschaftsdisziplinen – so beispielsweise dem gesamten Spektrum des frühen Christentums, der Judaistik, der Allgemeinen Religionswissenschaft oder der Alten Geschichte – erhoffen sich die Veranstalter tiefere Einsichten in Fragen des individuellen und kollektiven Glaubens in antiken Kontexten.

Is critical distance towards aspects of one’s own religious tradition a phenomenon of modern times? In this two-part conference, we will deal with different forms of ancient Religion and the question, to what extend scepticism and doubt concerning one’s own religious tradition played a role. The lectures and discussions will take up different questions: When “Insider Doubt” was present, what, specifically, was doubted? In which context was doubt acceptable? How was doubt expressed within a religious community? And what reactions did it provoke? Furthermore, the contributors will focus on the differences between “Insider Doubt” and sceptical attitudes of outsiders or opponents towards a certain religious tradition.

Emphasizing comparative perspectives, the conference spans a timescale from Classical Greece to the Roman Imperial period (5th century B. C. E. – 2nd century C. E.). As the conference includes the participation of representatives of various academic disciplines – ranging from multiple varieties of Early Christianity, Hellenistic Judaism, Religious Studies as well as Ancient History – the organizers expect that an in-depth treatment of “Insider Doubt” will lead to new insights on the nature and function of both doubt and belief in the ancient Mediterranean religious context.


Link zum Tagungsprogramm

Link zu den Abstracts

       Insider Doubt




“Test Everything”:

Sceptic and Believer in Ancient Mediterranean Religions


A Jointly Sponsored Conference on “Insider Doubt”

in Christianity and Ancient Mediterranean Religions


Regensburg: 18-20 October 2017

organized by Tobias Nicklas, New Testament,

and Babett Edelmann-Singer, Ancient History





Tim Whitmarsh, Cambridge, UK

Were the atheoi atheists? Religious scepticism and Greek polytheism


It is a truism that there are few exact ancient equivalents to the modern atheist, who denies all and any possible supernatural power. To reach that position, one has to have both a rigid, identifiable line of differentiation between the natural and the supernatural, and a more or less coherent concept of the divine. Neither of these was fully available in ancient Greek polytheism. Nevertheless, I argue in this paper, the Greeks did have a firm concept of the distinctiveness of the sphere of contact between human and divine, a sphere that they named ta theia (’the divine things’); and once we grasp that point, we can offer a more robust conceptualisation of what ancient Greek ‘atheism’ was, namely a denial not so much of ‘gods’ as of ta theia.



Jan N. Bremmer, Groningen, Netherlands

Atheism in Greek Tragedy and Its Audience


The recent appearance of Tim Whitmarsh’s book Battling the Gods: Atheism in the Ancient World (2015) and the massive 2017 Ghent dissertation by Alexander Meert, Positive  Atheism in Antiquity: A Social and Philosophical Analysis (500 BC – 200 AD = https://biblio. ugent.be/publication/8513548/file/8513552.pdf2016: supervised by Peter Van Nuffelen), invite a new look at the evidence of the fifth century BC in Athens, our most important, albeit perhaps not only source for early scepticism, even perhaps atheism. In my contribution I will first take a fresh look at the problem of belief in ancient Greece. Recent scholarship has advanced several arguments to accept belief as an important aspect of Greek religion, others have distinguished between a low-intensity and a high-intensity belief, and again others have totally rejected the usefulness of the concept of belief for ancient Greece. Second, I will look at various passages in Greek tragedy that suggest an atheistic current in late fifth-century Athens. I will pay attention to these passages and look especially at their place in the tragedy and their speakers. Finally, I will briefly analyse two famous scandals, that of the profanation of the Mysteries and the mutilation of the Herms, which have long been interpreted as signs of irreligiosity in Athens. I will weigh these arguments but, especially will connect these scandals with the sentiments in tragedy. In conclusion, I will investigate to what extent we can speak of skeptics and believers in classical Greece.


CV and Key Publications:

Jan N. Bremmer (b. 1944) was professor of Religious Studies at the University of Groningen (1990-2009). Since then he has been a visiting professor or research fellow in Cologne (2010-2011), Munich (2011-2012), New York (2012-2013), Erfurt (2013-2014), Freiburg/Br (2014), Erfurt (2016) and Bochum (2016-2017).

His main recent monographs are: Greek Religion & Culture, the Bible and the Ancient Near East (Leiden, 2008), The Rise of Christianity through the Eyes of Gibbon, Harnack and Rodney Stark (Groningen, 2010), Initiation into the Mysteries of the Ancient World (Berlin and Boston, 2014) and Maidens, Magic and Martyrs in Early Christianity: Collected Essays I (Tübingen, 2017).



Janet Downie, Chapel Hill, North Carolina, USA       

Truth, Credibility and Coherence in Aelius Aristides’ Prose Hymns


Aelius Aristides, a Greek rhetorician of the second century, is well known to modern scholars for his devotion to the healing god Asclepius. Because he wrote extensively about his attachment to Asclepius, and about other gods of the Greco-Roman tradition, Aristides offers a valuable pagan perspective on the relationship between belief and skepticism in this period. Aristides’ personal investment in the traditional Greco-Roman gods is such that it is difficult to regard him as anything other than a “believer,” and when he writes about the gods he embraces the subject with conviction. Yet this is not a matter of naïve religiosity – nor is it, I think, a rhetorical pose.

In this paper, focusing on two of his prose hymns, I argue that Aristides offers an oblique perspective on the notion of belief. In the prologue to his hymn To Sarapis, Aristides proposes his own set of criteria for talking about the gods: truth, credibility and coherence (Or. 45.1). I argue that it is his understanding of the relationship among these three terms – none of which corresponds, precisely, to our notions of belief and skepticism – that guides his assessment and presentation of the pagan gods, both here and in his other hymns. In the second part of the paper I present as an example a passage from his Corinthian Oration: To Poseidon (Or. 46), in which he discusses the relationship between Poseidon and Ino-Leucothea. Keeping in view the principles he sets out in the Hymn to Sarapis, I argue that Aristides gives this mythological episode a prominent place in his hymn for personal reasons, and that he rewrites the story to satisfy the intellectual challenge of his inner skeptic.


CV and Key Publications:

Janet Downie is Assistant Professor of Classics at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. She specializes in Greek, and her research focuses on literature of the Roman imperial period. She is the author of At the Limits of Art: A Literary Reading of Aelius Aristides’ Hieroi Logoi (Oxford 2013) and has published articles on a range of texts and authors of the imperial period including Philostratus (Palamedes and the Wisdom of India in Philostratus' Life of Apollonius of Tyana.” Mouseion. Volume 13.1 (2016): 65-84) and Artemidorus (“Narrative and Divination: Artemidorus and Aelius Aristides.” Archiv für Religionsgeschichte 15.1 (2013): 97-116). She has an essay on Aristides’ prose hymns in a forthcoming volume in the SAPERE series (“Literarischer Götterpreis zu Zeiten Lukians: Die Götterhymnen des Aelius Aristides.” In Lukian, Dialogi Deorum, edited by F. Berdozzo and H.-G. Nesselrath.  SAPERE. Mohr Siebeck), and is currently working on a book project on the perception and description of the landscapes of Asia Minor in imperial literature.



Kai Trampedach, Heidelberg, Germany

Plutarch als Apologet des Orakels von Delphi

Nur wenige Berichte sind im Rahmen der antiken Literatur überliefert, die nicht einzelne Konsultationen, sondern das delphische Orakel als solches thematisieren. Die wichtigsten und ausführlichsten von ihnen stammen von Plutarch, mithin einem Autor, der als Priester ein wichtiger Funktionsträger des Heiligtums von Delphi war. Zu Plutarchs Zeit, um die Wende vom 1. zum 2. nachchristlichen Jahrhundert, war der Ruhm von Delphi und insbesondere seines Orakels längst ferne Vergangenheit, und das Heiligtum zog vermutlich mehr Touristen als Pilger an. Obwohl das Orakel zu dieser Zeit immer noch konsultiert werden konnte, waren sich doch alle Beteiligten darüber im Klaren, daß sie ein Abgrund von der Glanzperiode des 7. bis 4. Jahrhunderts v. Chr. trennte. Diesen Abgrund gedanklich zu überbrücken, setzte sich – so die These, die ich vertreten möchte – Plutarch zum Ziel. Seine delphische Dialoge reagierten auf eine weitverbreitete Skepsis sowie manifesten Unglauben, indem sie auf jeweils originelle Weise eine Fülle von (physischen, metaphysischen, rituellen, soziologischen, politischen) Argumenten erörterten, um den sagenhaften Erfolg Delphis zu begründen. Dabei ließ Plutarch Probleme diskutieren, die noch den heutigen Forscher beschäftigen: Wie ist die hervorgehobene Rolle, die das Orakel von Delphi einst in der griechischen Politik spielte, zu erklären? Wie funktioniert(e) das Orakel? Welchen Ursprungs und welcher Art ist bzw. war die Inspiration der Pythia? Warum weissagt sie nicht mehr in Versen? Was sind die Gründe für den allgemeinen Bedeutungsrückgang der Orakelkommunikation in Griechenland?

In meinem Beitrag möchte ich die Antworten auf diese Fragen, die in den delphischen Dialogen Plutarchs gegeben werden, mit Befunden der klassischen Zeit konfrontieren, um besser einschätzen zu können, aus welchen Quellen sich Unglaube und Skepsis speisen und welche Argumente Plutarch als Apologet des Orakels von Delphi dagegen und gegen die eigenen inneren Zweifel aufbieten konnte.


CV and Key Publications:

Kai Trampedach is a professor for Ancient History at the Ruprecht-Karls-University Heidelberg. He has published articles and books on the relationship of philosophy or religion/theology and politics, political anthropology in the Ancient World, Hellenistic and Roman Judaism, and political rituals and hagiography in Late Antiquity. His dissertation deals with Platon, die Akademie und die zeitgenössische Politik (Steiner Verlag 1994). He edited (and contributed to) Practitioners of the Divine. Greek Priests and Religious Officials from Homer to Heliodorus (Harvard University Press 2008), and Theokratie und theokratischer Diskurs. Die Rede von der Gottesherrschaft und ihre politisch-sozialen Auswirkungen im interkulturellen Vergleich (Mohr Siebeck 2013). Quite recently, he published a book on Greek divination: Politische Mantik. Die Kommunikation über Götterzeichen und Orakel im klassischen Griechenland (Verlag Antike 2015).


David P. Moessner, Fort Worth, Texas

Luke as Sceptical ‘Insider’: Re-configuring the ‘Tradition’ by Altering the Story       


The author of the Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles challenges the tradition represented by Mark by changing the epistemological contours of Mark’s narrative construal.  What has become the template in contemporary historical-critical scholarship for ‘the synoptic tradition’— and thus the epitome of the trifecta of ‘Synoptic’ Gospels—Matthew—Mark—Luke—actually runs counter to Luke’s attempt to break this ‘synoptic’ mold.  Luke not only registers his dissatisfaction with the Markan ‘narrative,’ but he also re-‘arranges’ the whole of the received tradition into an entirely new narrative hermeneutic for the emerging Christian traditions of the late first and early second centuries ce (cf. Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-8). 

Luke’s ‘Gospel’ and his ‘Acts’ that follow re-configure the Markan story into a tri-namic diorama of the Messiah of Israel’s enactment of salvation for the whole world.  By re-figuring Mark’s ‘bio-graphical’ silhouette of Jesus of Nazareth, Luke drafts a new, more comprehensive narrative arc of multiple actors through multiple periods of Israel’s history—patriarchs, prophets, saints, holy women, apostles, witnesses and counter-witnesses—all configured around the Anointed One who was pre-announced, predictably rejected, and preeminently enthroned as the Lord and Christ of God’s final “reign.”  Luke’s two-volume enterprise is nothing less than a new conceptualization of “all” [the traditions] (πντα, Luke 1:3) that go back to a beginning of “all that stands written” about Israel’s Christ and his bequeathing of a “new covenant,” crafted according to this “plan of God” pre-‘scripted’ in Israel’s scriptures.


Trevor Thompson, Chicago, USA

“Believe the Lie”: The Letters of Paul, Trust, and the Mask of Authenticity


Paul’s genuine letters address people (ο πιστεοντες) who trust, with varying degrees of confidence, his message about the past, the present, and the future (1 Thess 1:6–10). Paul describes a person—Jesus—whom the letter recipients never met, a place few (if any!) have visited (Jerusalem), and events they did not witness (e.g., crucifixion [1 Cor 1:23]). Paul’s motives (1 Thess 2:3–8) and his message were impugned (perhaps rightly? [cf. Rom 3:7; 2 Cor 12:16–17]). In response, Paul famously avers, “I am telling the truth in Christ; I am not lying” (Rom 9:1; cf. 2 Cor 11:31; Gal 1:20). Separated by distance, Paul defends himself and the veracity of his message with letters. These documents often carry an explicit affirmation of genuineness: marks from Paul’s own hand (1 Cor 16:21; Gal 6:11; Phlm 19). These signs of authenticity were copied by those who wrote in Paul’s name to secure the trust of readers: “The greeting is from Paul, in my own hand, which is the mark of authenticity in every letter. This is my handwriting” (2 Thess 3:17; cf. Col 4:18). The author of 2 Thessalonians composed, in the words of Wilhelm Wrede, eine Fälschung (a forgery), a carefully crafted document that successfully concealed its true origin for centuries. The writer, wearing the mask of “Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,” secured the trust of readers in order to achieve a particular rhetorical goal, recrafting of Paul’s imminent eschatology in 1 Thessalonians. Remarkably, the unidentified writer crafts a “false letter” (ψευδς πιστολ)—“a deluding influence” [νργεια πλνη; cf. 2 Thess 2:11]—while warning about possible deception (2 Thess 2:3). In fact, the activity of the author in crafting 2 Thessalonians mirrors the depiction of the two divine actors, σατανς and θες, as dueling eschatological deceivers. The former effects false signs and wonders (2 Thess 2:9–10); the latter causes people to trust falsehood (2 Thess 2:11). Both the author and his θες need a credulous populace “to believe the lie.”


CV and Key Publications:

PhD (Candidate) University of Chicago, Department of New Testament and Early Christian Literature,in-progress dissertation: “Second Thessalonians and the Rhetoric ofAuthenticity”

MA University of Chicago, Department of New Testament and Early Christian Literature, Fall 2007

Ephesus as a Religious Center under the Principate. Editor with A. Black and C. Thomas. WUNT. Mohr Siebeck, Forthcoming.

Galen’s De indolentia. Essays on the Newly-Discovered Letter. Editorwith C. K. Rothschild. STAC 88. Mohr Siebeck, 2014.

“Paul and the Jaws of Death (1 Cor 15:32): Animals and the Pathology of Illness.”In Ephesus as a Religious Center underthe Principate. Edited by A. Black, C. Thomas, and T. Thompson. WUNT. MohrSiebeck, Forthcoming.

“Introduction (withillustration of Vlatadon 14).” With C. K. Rothschild. In Galen’s Deindolentia. Essays on the Newly-Discovered Letter. Edited by C. K.Rothschild and T. W. Thompson. STAC 88. Mohr Siebeck, 2014. Pages 3–20.

“Galen, De indolentia, and Early Christian Literature.” Bulletin for the Study of Religion 44,no. 3 (September 2015). Pages 20–25.

 Babett Edelmann-Singer, Regensburg, Germany

Belief and Scepticism in Emperor Cult? The case study of Seneca’s Apocolocyntosis

Seneca’s satire Apocolocyntosis is a highly disputed and debatable manuscript. Regarding emperor cult, Seneca’s text is far from being easy to interpret. Despite this caveat, this piece of Neronian literature, which denies the divinity of emperor Claudius in a satirical form (Sen. Apocol. 11, 3: “God! Who will worship this god, who will believe him?“) is one of the rare documents that can give us a glimpse of how emperor cult was dealt with – at least by some members of the Roman elite. The paper takes the Senecan text as a starting point for questioning whether the concept of belief and scepticism helps to understand the cults for living or deceased rulers and the reactions to them. For quite a long time ancient historians understood the phenomenon of ruler cult rather as “Loyalitätsreligion”, an instrument of imperial policy that could be manipulated in whatever direction purposes of the central authority might require. Ruler cult was not seen as a “true religion”, not a confession, but rather a mirror of political reality. This idea was later replaced by a rather cultural view that asked for ritual, function and social practice in ruler cult. “Believe” as an individual issue again was of no importance. Seneca seemed to prove ancient historians right. In contrast, the objective of my paper is to show that there was an individual perspective in ruler cult. “Believe” and even “scepticism” can be shown as parameters of the ancient discourse on ruler cult and I will present this concept by re-evaluating the rare examples of texts, inscriptions and images. Finally I am going to put these ideas in the broader context of individual approaches to Greek and Roman religion.


CV and Key Publications:

Babett Edelmann-Singer studied History and German Philology in Regensburg and Leicester; 2001 Research Stay in Rome at Deutsches Archäologisches Institut (DAI), 2005 PhD; 2005-2014 Junior Lecturer at Regensburg University, 2013 Habilitation, Oberassistentin in Regensburg, since 2014 Deputy Professor in Erlangen-Nuremberg and Regensburg, Visiting Professor at the Universities of Osnabrück and Passau. Her research areas are Greek and Roman Religion and Ruler Cult, History of the Roman Provinces in the Greek East, Greek Epigraphy, History and Culture of the Early Roman Empire.

Religiöse Herrschaftslegitimation in der Antike. Die religiöse Legitimation orientalisch-ägyptischer und griechisch-hellenistischer Herrscher im Vergleich (Pharos. Studien zur griechisch-römischen Antike 20), Diss., St. Katharinen 2007.

Koina und Concilia. Genese, Organisation und sozioökonomische Funktion der Provinziallandtage im römischen Reich (HABES Heidelberger Althistorische Beiträge und epigraphische Studien 57), Stuttgart 2015.

Das Römische Reich von Tiberius bis Nero (14-68 n.Chr.) (WBG Geschichte Kompakt), Darmstadt 2017.

Arvalbrüder und Kaiserkult. Zur Topographie des römischen Kaiserkultes, in: Cancik, H. / Hitzl, K. (Hgg.): Die Praxis der Herrscherverehrung in Rom und seinen Provinzen,
Tübingen 2003, 189-205.



Benjamin Schliesser, Bern, Switzerland

Johannine Literature: Doubting and Touching - Thomas Revisited


The Gospel of John places Jesus’s encounter with “Doubting Thomas” (John 20:24-29) right before its meta-textual final statement on faith (John 20:30-31). Thus, “doubt” and “faith receive a prominent place in the Fourth Gospel. My paper has three parts: First, I sketch, in broad strokes, the captivating early history of interpretation of this Johannine episode. Second, I argue in line with Late Antique and Medieval exegesis and against the overwhelming majority of current interpretation that according to the narrative logic of the implicit author Thomas actually touched Jesus in order to test his faith. Third, I describe the role and the correlation of skepticism and faith in John’s Gospel and, more generally, in the early Christian identity discourse: If faith is the critical boundary marker of the emerging Christian communities, marking them off from those outside – where is the place of doubt and skepticism?


CV and Key Publications:

Benjamin Schliesser studied theology in Tübingen, Glasgow and Pasadena; 2006 Ph.D.; 2010-2016 Oberassistent in Zürich; since 2016 extraordinary professor for New Testament at the University of Bern.

Abraham’s Faith in Romans 4. Paul’s Concept of Faith in Light of the History of Reception of Genesis 15:6 (WUNT II/224; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007); Was ist Glaube? Paulinische Perspektiven (ThSt N.F. 3; Zürich: TVZ, 2011); To Touch or not to Touch. Doubting and Touching in John 20:24-29, Early Christianity 8 (2017), 69–93; Faith in Early Christianity: An Encyclopaedic and Bibliographical Overview, in: Jörg Frey, Benjamin Schliesser und Nadine Ueberschaer (Hg.), Glaube. Das Verständnis des Glaubens im frühen Christentum und in seiner jüdischen und hellenistisch-römischen Umwelt (WUNT 373; Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2017), 3–50; Glauben und Denken im Hebräerbrief und bei Paulus. Zwei frühchristliche Perspektiven auf die Rationalität des Glaubens, in: ibid., 503-560.



Inger Kuin, Groningen, Netherlands

Loukianos atheos? Humor and Religious Doubt in Lucian of Samosata


Many pre-modern scholars viewed Lucian of Samosata as a bona fide atheist (Suda, scholia), and their depiction shaped Lucianic reception for centuries to come. Since the 1980s alternative interpretations of the author's stance towards religion have come to the fore, and in current scholarship he is understood alternately as holding skeptic, agnostic, or even pious views. This paper will diverge from these biographical attempts to characterise Lucian's own religious attitude, which in fact remains hidden behind his sophisticated authorial masks, to investigate instead how the orator's diverse audience might have responded to his seemingly irreverent humor.

'Atheists' as such occur infrequently in Lucian. The term is used by the charlatan prophet Alexander of his enemies, but can also be applied, in fact, to another charlatan prophet himself: Peregrinus. More interesting than the term atheos are various interlocutors in Lucian's dialogues that explicitly critique aspects of ancient religion. This paper reviews four such characters: the anonymous speaker of On Sacrifices, Demonax in Life of Demonax, Cyniscus in Zeus Refuted, and Damis in Zeus the Tragic Actor. I will argue that in these pieces skeptical attitudes towards religion are displayed, yet not necessarily confirmed. Lucian's destabilising humor prevents a straightforward interpretation. Cyniscus, it seems, is ridiculed just as much as Zeus. The author allows audiences to explore their religious doubts through laughter, but ultimately leaves them to make up their own minds about the gods.       


CV and Key Publications:

Inger Kuin works as a post-doctoral researcher and lecturer in the Ancient History Department at the University of Groningen. She received a PhD in Classics from New York University in 2015 for her dissertation on religion and humor in Lucian of Samosata. Inger has published on Lucian and 'otherness', and has written editions of a Homeric papyrus and several Latin funerary inscriptions. She has journal articles forthcoming on Strabo and the Mithridatic Wars, on Sulla's sack of Athens, and on double-sided funerary epitaphs. Inger is also working on a book based on her dissertation, titled Laughing With the Gods: Lucian and the Comic in Ancient Religious Experience. (Full CV available at www.rug.academia.edu/IngerKuin)




Insider Doubt

  1. Fakultät für Philosophie, Kunst-, Geschichts- und Gesellschaftswissenschaften
  2. Institut für Geschichte

Lehrstuhl für Alte Geschichte

Prof. Dr. Angela Ganter

Gebäude PT, Zi. 3.1.49

Telefon 0941/943-3538