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Divine Transcendence and Immanence in Antiquity

The application to antiquity of the study of the evolving of the distinction between immanence and transcendence as triggered by intra- and interreligious encounter is a challenge. As is well known, the distinction is a modern invention and cannot be found as such in antiquity. Yet we do find of course discussions that are relevant to the topic. These concern especially the ancient Greek gods. Recent studies analyze all kinds of aspects of the Greek gods, and they also pay some attention to the level of divine transcendence. Are some gods perhaps more equal than others? Where do the gods have to be situated? With this last question the subject of the research project is described: Immanence and transcendence of the gods and God in the ancient world from Homer to Late Antiquity.

Given the hovering of the pagan gods between immanence and transcendence, the rise of Christianity poses an interesting problem: to what extent did the first centuries of Christianity interact with the Greek ideas of their gods? Were they mainly interested in the more ‘transcendent’ ideas or did they attack the ‘immanent’ ideas. And to what extent did they translate the Jewish tradition of God as Creator into Greek terms? Did the knowledge of or competition with the Greek religious ideas lead them to formulate their own ideas in specific ways?

The Greek philosophical ideas about their gods can be ascribed to intra-religious developments, just as the Christian ideas about the nature of God and Christ developed in an intra-religious dialogue with Gnostics and other ‘heretics’. Yet the early Christians also had to defend and develop their beliefs in dialogue with their pagan environment. In this manner the proposed project tries to look at both intra- and interreligious encounters.