Saturday, 11 April 2015

Michael Peppard: Dunked or Enlightened? Reconsidering Terminology for Sites and Rites of Initiation

Translators of Greek inscriptions customarily render "photisterion" as "baptistery." In doing so, they rely on a long tradition of translating "photismos" as "baptismus" in Latin or "baptism" in English. But when fastidious care is given to technical terminology in texts about other aspects of early Christianity, why should we be so cavalier for these signifiers about the sites and rites of initiation?
This paper aims to reopen the study of photisterion and baptisterion. While it seems highly unlikely that in all places photisterion refers to something different than baptisterion, there are some examples that suggest so. And even where the physical referent (Bedeutung) of the word may be the same, the sense (Sinn) of the two terms remains different. Either being "dunked" or being "enlightened" evokes different ways of construing the concomitant, overall meaning of the set of rituals. And just as scholars examine the different soteriological senses of "sacrifice," "redemption," or "victory" in theological texts, so too can we propose subtle nuances between terms ascribed to ritual practices.
The paper will survey what can be known about late antique and early Byzantine photisteria, as identified by archaeologists, recorded in inscriptions, or referred to in textual traditions. It explores options for interpreting what the term photisterion evokes differently than baptisterion.

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