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Scenting Salvation

Ancient Christianity and the Olfactory Imagination

Susan Ashbrook Harvey (Author)

Available worldwide

Hardcover, 442 pages
ISBN: 9780520241473
June 2006
$85.00, £62.95
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This book explores the role of bodily, sensory experience in early Christianity (first – seventh centuries AD) by focusing on the importance of smell in ancient Mediterranean culture. Following its legalization in the fourth century Roman Empire, Christianity cultivated a dramatically flourishing devotional piety, in which the bodily senses were utilized as crucial instruments of human-divine interaction. Rich olfactory practices developed as part of this shift, with lavish uses of incense, holy oils, and other sacred scents. At the same time, Christians showed profound interest in what smells could mean. How could the experience of smell be construed in revelatory terms? What specifically could it convey? How and what could be known through smell? Scenting Salvation argues that ancient Christians used olfactory experience for purposes of a distinctive religious epistemology: formulating knowledge of the divine in order to yield, in turn, a particular human identity.

Using a wide array of Pagan, Jewish, and Christian sources, Susan Ashbrook Harvey examines the ancient understanding of smell through religious rituals, liturgical practices, mystagogical commentaries, literary imagery, homiletic conventions; scientific, medical, and cosmological models; ascetic disciplines, theological discourse, and eschatological expectations. In the process, she argues for a richer appreciation of ancient notions of embodiment, and of the roles the body might serve in religion.

1. The Olfactory Context: Smelling the Early Christian World
A Martyr’s Scent
Sacrifice: The Aroma of Relation
Daily Smells: Powers and Promises
God’s Perfume: Imagined Glory and the Scent of Life

2. The Christian Body: Ritually Fashioned Experience
A New Place
A Revelatory World
Participatory Knowing: Ritual Scents and Devotional Uses
Participatory Knowing: Scents and Sense
Excursus: Incense Offerings in the Syriac Transitus Mariae

3. Olfaction and Christian Knowing
Sense Perception in the Ancient Mind
Christian Senses in a Christian World
Olfactory Analogies as Theological Tools
Revelatory Scents: Olfaction and Identity
Remembering Knowledge: Liturgical Commentaries
Excursus: On the Sinful Woman in Syriac Tradition

4. Redeeming Scents: Ascetic Models
The Smell of Danger: Marking Sensory Contexts
The Fragrance of Virtue: Reordering Olfactory Experience
The Spiritual Senses: Relocating Perception
Ascetic Practice and Embodied Liturgy
The Stylite’s Model
A Syriac Tradition Continued

5. Sanctity and Stench
Ascetic Stench: Sensation and Dissonance
Stench and Morality: Mortality and Sin
Ascetic Senses
Asceticism: Holy Stench, Holy Weapon

6. Resurrection, Sensation, and Knowledge
Bodily Expectation
Salvific Knowing

Susan Ashbrook Harvey is Professor of Religious Studies at Brown University. She is the author of Asceticism and Society in Crisis: John of Ephesus and The Lives of the Eastern Saints (1990) and coauthor of Holy Women of the Syrian Orient (1998), both from UC Press.
“Fascinating and engrossing, [it] creatively and insightfully reframes important debates.”—Lauren Winner Books & Culture: A Christian Review
“A fascinating book on a rarely considered topic . . . [Harvey] is to be commended for this work of creative and erudite synthesis.”—Bryn Mawr Classical Review (BMCR)
“Thought-provoking . . . gently weaving her way through early Christian descriptions of pleasingly heavenly odors and the stench of moral and physical decay. . . . Harvey’s attention to an impressive breadth of material . . . and beautiful writing should make this text accessible, informative, and engaging.”—Christine Shepardson Church History Stds In Christiany And Culture
“A masterful treatment of the role of the sense of smell in Late Antiquity. . . . It is a treat to read.”—Hugoye: Journal Of Syriac Studies
“This long-awaited book, the fruit of some decades of research, is truly wonderful. It opens up a whole new dimension of early Christian cultural history.”—Andrew Louth Journal Of Ecclesiastical History
“[A] magisterial book . . . fascinating and indeed, groundbreaking. Harvey’s conclusions will surely prove illuminating and provocative.”—Journal Of Religion
“It is a book that can be read and appreciated by non-experts even as it satisfies specialists in the field of ancient Christian studies.”—Vigen Guroian Logos: Journal Of Eastern Christian Stds
"Susan Ashbrook Harvey has surely produced the definitive analysis of the role of scent in Early Christian ritual and theological discourse. This is a welcome new trajectory in the study of religion and the body."—Patricia Cox Miller, author of The Cultural Turn in Late Ancient Studies: Gender, Asceticism, and Historiography

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