The cover of Scenting Salvation
features an icon of Christ raising Lazarus from the dead with onlookers covering their faces and holding their noses to abate the stench. It's at once ironic, comical, curious, and disconcerting. Though scholars frequently address the sensory experiences of sight and sound in early Christian piety, hardly a volume (we know of none but the book in hand) explores what some might consider the 'lesser' of the senses-maybe because it so frankly attests to the reality of the physical body. Susan Ashbrook Harvey challenges the lingering tendency of scholars to interpret early Christian asceticism as fundamentally hostile to the body by considering the importance many ascetic texts give to olfactory experience in ritualistic and epistemological contexts. By first surveying the olfactory culture into which Christianity emerged, she charts the elaboration of Christian ritual in the fourth and fifth centuries (after the legalization of Christianity) and the emergence of the Christian belief that 'received experiences and enacted responses yielded distinct knowledge of God.' The remaining chapters consider how ascetic instruction trained Christians (both monastic and lay congregations) in the proper use and location of their sensory experiences and the way in which foul odors were employed to express moral condition-including the problem this invariably raised in regard to eschatology. Textual notes, an extensive bibliography, and comprehensive index comprise almost half of Harvey's 400-page treatment, yet be not afraid. Her scholarship is accessible, her prose engaging, and her endeavor one of a kind.
An Eighth Day View:
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.