Dale B. Martin - Inventing Superstition

While the title sounds intriguing and the early portions of the book usually held my interest, I ended up skimming the last 75 pages. If you are the type that likes to debate how many angels can dance on the tip of a pin, or, worse yet, likes to read about such a debate that took place almost two thousand years ago, then you will enjoy this book. Personally, I can no longer tolerate such meaninglessness, and that is why I ended up breezing through the last part of Inventing Superstition.

The bulk of the book deals more with how Romans and Christians viewed each other's theology than superstition per se. Galen's, Celsus's, and Origen's views on theology are all covered. Special attention is paid to how they were different and similar. I found their views rather dull and predictable. If you aren't interested in their beliefs then a brief essay on the topic of superstition would be better to read. Martin actually provides this on the last page of the book as follows:

"Eusebius and other Christian intellectuals also eventually succeeded in defending Christianity as the only true philosophy and in turning the tables by tarring all of hellenic religion and philosophical theology as deisidaimonia [superstition]. Just as Greek intellectuals had been right, from their point of view, in labeling Christianity as a superstition, so Christian intellectuals were right, from their point of view, in branding hellenic religion and philosophy with the same term."

from the publisher:
The Roman author Pliny the Younger characterizes Christianity as "contagious superstition"; two centuries later the Christian writer Eusebius vigorously denounces Greek and Roman religions as vain and impotent "superstitions." The term of abuse is the same, yet the two writers suggest entirely different things by "superstition."

Dale Martin provides the first detailed genealogy of the idea of superstition, its history over eight centuries, from classical Greece to the Christianized Roman Empire of the fourth century C.E. With illuminating reference to the writings of philosophers, historians, and medical teachers he demonstrates that the concept of superstition was invented by Greek intellectuals to condemn popular religious practices and beliefs, especially the belief that gods or other superhuman beings would harm people or cause disease. Tracing the social, political, and cultural influences that informed classical thinking about piety and superstition, nature and the divine, Inventing Superstition exposes the manipulation of the label of superstition in arguments between Greek and Roman intellectuals on the one hand and Christians on the other, and the purposeful alteration of the idea by Neoplatonic philosophers and Christian apologists in late antiquity.

Inventing Superstition weaves a powerfully coherent argument that will transform our understanding of religion in Greek and Roman culture and the wider ancient Mediterranean world.