The End of Pagan Temples in Roman Palestine
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I am investigating fate of polytheist temples in Late Antique Roman Palestine, with a primary focus on the archaeological remains of the temples themselves. This focus is a deliberate effort to steer the conversation about “Christianization” and the “end of paganism” into the domain of empirical evidence. The inner religious states of individuals, and hence populations, confound efforts at quantification. Thus, this dissertation is instead an accounting of the fate of the public venues that were used by pagans, for specific ritual behavior that enhanced status, in what was the most significant part of the Empire in terms of the history of Christianity. Ancient Palestine in the third and early fourth centuries was part of the normal Mediterranean pagan milieu. Cities such as Bet Shean, Aelia Capitolina, and Caesarea Maritima provide us with evidence for dozens of pagan temples. This study finds evidence for forty-four temples. There were certainly many more than those for which we have evidence. All of these pagan temples eventually went out of commission. Only three temples in Palestine had endings that were remarkable enough to be preserved in the literary record. The ending of the rest was far less dramatic, if we even know about it. A combination of neglect, natural disaster, extended quarrying through time, and encroachment of ritual space by other buildings was significantly more common than more dramatic scenarios that involved overt social conflict. What we hear from impassioned literary sources does not seem to be typical when compared with the archaeology. It might be hypothesized that an urban culture of enlightened indifference preferred to allow temples to linger and slip away, in an unremarkable fashion, rather than forcibly eliminate them.