contributor.author: Dorothea Weltecke

title.none: Stoyanov, The Other God (Dorothea Weltecke)

identifier.other: baj9928.0108.009 01.08.09

identifier.issn: 1096-746X

description.statementofresponsibility: Dorothea Weltecke, Georg-August-Universitat Gottingen, dweltec@gwdg.de

publisher.none: .

date.issued: 2001

identifier.citation: Stoyanov, Yuri. The Other God: Dualist Religions from Antiquity to the Cathar Heresy. Nota Bene. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000. Pp. vii, 476. $14.95. ISBN: 0-300-08253-3.

type.none: Review

relation.ispartof: The Medieval Review

The Medieval Review 01.08.09

Stoyanov, Yuri. The Other God: Dualist Religions from Antiquity to the Cathar Heresy. Nota Bene. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2000. Pp. vii, 476. $14.95. ISBN: 0-300-08253-3.

Reviewed by:

Dorothea Weltecke
Georg-August-Universitat Gottingen
dweltec@gwdg.de

The Other God. Dualist Religions from Antiquity to the Cathar Heresy by Yuri Stoyanov is the second version of his book The Hidden Tradition in Europe: The Secret History of Medieval Christian Heresy (London, 1994). In this new version Stoyanov, who is based at the Warburg Institute in London, offers a work with a truly global perspective. In six chapters Stoyanov unfolds the immensly colourful world of cosmological thought since predynastic Egypt. He concludes with an epilogue about the views on medieval dualism by early modern and modern scholars. And all this he does on 294 pages of text.

The first chapter, "The Bridge of the Separator", opens the study with the most ancient forms of dualist religious concepts, as seen by Stoyanov. It is a historical treatment of the various stages of the mythical relationship between the Egyptian gods Horus and Seth from predynastic to Ptolemaic times. Whereas the main concern of Egyptian cosmology was balance and equilibrium, ancient Zoroastrian theology focussed on the relation of truth and untruth, and the problem of free will. It is told in the great myths of the good creator god Ahura Mazda against Angra Mainyu. Ultimately history will end with the eschatological purification of the world. Zoroastrianism is traced down to the time of the Achaemenids. The various stages of the myths, including assimilations of Mesopotamian and Babylonian religious concepts, are described. Here, too, an increase of dualism is detected, and the Iranian influences on Jewish satanology and demonology are indicated. The next pillar of Stoyanov's history is found in ancient Greece, in Thrace, to be more precise. Orphism as presented here is a dualism distinguishing not cosmologically but between body and soul. Stoyanov concludes the chapter with the indication of certain contact zones between these three systems, i.e. in Platonic thought.

The second chapter is, like the first one, titled along the lines of Zoroastrian myths: "The Time of Mixture". Starting out with the conquest of Asia by Alexander and the beginning of Hellenism, the title appears to be programmatic as Stoyanov now concentrates on deepening intercultural and interreligious exchanges. Stoyanov describes the world after the Seleucids as divided between three realms, the Roman empire, Parthian Iran and the Kushan empire in the East. Buddhist missionary efforts in the East are matched by the simultaneous spread of Greco-Oriental mystical cults into the Mediterranean world. Before the background of intercultural contacts and religious synchretism new cults emerge, like Christianity and Mithraism. Stoyanov sees striking parallels between Mayarana Buddhism and Christianity and demands further study of these similiarities.

In chapter three, entitled "The Thread of the Great Heresy", Stoyanov turns to the so-called dualist movements of late antiquity and the Middle Ages, which have been treated as heresies by the now "orthodox" religions. Mandeans, Manichaeans, Messalians, Paulicians etc. already faced severe persecution by the Roman and later the Byzantine empire. He then traces the history of the Bogomils up to the synods and the persecution in twelfth-century Byzantium. Since all of these heresies were located mainly in areas inhabited previously by followers of the ancient religions mentioned earlier (esp. Iran and Thrace) the genealogical relation between them are evaluated. Stoyanov especially concentrates on the complicated religious history in the emerging pagan and then christianized empires in the Balkans. Specific aspects of Pre-bogomil satanology are connected with the myth of the socalled "earth-diver" of prehistoric Central and northern Asia, taking into account the new powers in the Balkans of Central Asian origin.

The forth chapter "The Dualist Communion", presents the history of the Cathars as a diffusion of Bogomilism and other Christian-related dualist sects to the West. Stoyanov stresses the thesis that although called Manichaeans by the contemporary polemical clerics, earlier western heresies had in fact no dualist roots apart from those tendencies inherent in Christianity. The development of the Cathar and Bogomil institutions in the twelfth century and the clerical concern with the growing threat are described. In "The Crusade Against Dualism", then, the history of the dualist movements is taken to its dramatic climax, the fall of Montsegur in 1244 and the almost simultaneous war, instigated by the pope, against Bosnia. The chapter concludes with the development of the Bosnian churches and the late history of Bogomilism in the Balkans. The epilogue concentrates on the political context of the investigation of the church history of the Balkans. One should also mention two sections on magic and heresy in the Roman empire and in the late Middle Ages.

Books should be evaluated within their own frame of intentions. This work apparently does not want to be an investigation of sources. Therefore there is no point in critizing the fact that The Other God is based on secondary literature. On the other hand this book does not intend to be a critical survey of the discussions of dualist religions. Yes, Stoyanov has read a lot, and this does deserve respect. His homeground apparently is the church history of Bosnia and the Balkans in general, and here he does present first-hand knowledge. Usually, however, he mentions contradicting scholarly opinions without criticizing and evaluating them. The reason for these often unsatisfying and even irritating summaries is rather simple: it is entirely impossible to cover the development in all the various disciplines or to read (language problem!) the sources of so vast a field.

Stoyanov apparently sees no problem here, which is why the reader is led to believe that it is all done intentionally. Probably he also accepts the consequences, which are factual mistakes in the details and in places knowledge at the handbook level. The history of the Cathar heresy from the twelfth to the thirteenth century, for example, offers no surprises; definitions of eastern christian churches are rather outdated, and the representation of the crusades does not reflect the state of research either. Other readers might want to voice different complaints.

Still this could be a very good book. Synthesis and comparison are needed and often not undertaken exactly because of the problems just indicated. It would be a great loss for the humanities, if there were no individuals bold enough to venture on highly dangereous missions like these, and who took the risks of making mistakes to serve some higher aims. The Other God, for example, is typical for the Warburg school in more than one respect. Its scope is interdisciplinary. It does not show the usual eurocentric autism. And it is a narrative without much concern for strict method or theory. Nobody would want to deny the advantages of this approach and the fruits it is bearing.

The book should therefore be evaluated as a narrative synthesis providing new insights into a systematic field of cultural phenomena. Here, however, the disadvandages of the present work become obvious. Firstly, the narrative is not coherent. The ambitious concept of narrating along the lines of Zoroastrian mythology, as expressed in the programmatic titles of the chapters, is dropped halfway through the book. Another story of the rise, the climax and the eclipse of the heresies is begun. This indicates inner contradictions in the line of thoughts presented. There are fractures in the metastory Stoyanov is telling. These contradictions seem to be partly the consequence of Stoyanov wanting to meet criticism against his first edition. No, he does not want to write religious history as a diffusion of beliefs, he is declaring in the Introduction. But then he does tell a story of diffusion of religious motives and cults, even if an intricate and in parts fascinating one.

Still, he claims that "the book has been guided by the assumption that the phenomenon of the emergence of a religious dualism or dualist tendencies in a given religious tradition, can be better understood when treated against the background of similar processes in other religions, rather than in the isolated framework of early and medieval Christianity, for example." (287) Stoyanov's work, however, is lacking a systematic comparitive approach. What is worse, it is only this assumed similarity between the phenomena, which makes a story like this one possible to narrate. And it is the assumption of similiarity which should have prevented him from telling it. Stoyanov uses the term "dualist" without the critical reflection his own vast reading could have led to. This is more than a "war of labels"--one of the unhappy terms of the book. The term "dualism" is its backbone! It should be mentioned in this context that the question of whether or not Catharism was a sect or a religion of its own right is not, as Stoyanov seems to argue, a question of political correctness. "Understanding", even "sympathy" for the Catharist movement can be found both in works promoting the thesis that Catharism is a religion (Rottenwohrer) or not (Borst). To decide this question, comparison and sincere theoretical work on categories is needed, not nomenclature.

The first result of the comparison should have been that the views of the ancient religions on the one side and of the so-called heresies on the other side on (a) Creation and life, (b) the body, and (c) the free will are essentially different. Later binary concepts turn concepts of life, the body, and free will upside down. I would have been happy to learn why this happens as a creative exegisis of motives apparently forming something I would like to designate as an intercultural memory. Also binary cosmogonies on the one side and a binary body-soul relation on the other are not one and the same. And all these differences are vital! They are vital for understanding the opposition of the "monistic" or "orthodox" religions as they are designated by Stoyanov (classical Zoroastrianism is labled both dualist and orthodox as it opposed later developments as heretical).

Yes, Stoyanov does mention in his introduction as well as in the conclusion that he agrees to just that. At the same time, dualism for Stoyanov is one of two religious answers to the question of "unde malum". And this is a grave mistake! It was not crucial for the ancient religions, as he himself quite precisely describes. Since he reduces the colourful diversity of the religious concepts investigated to this question, and since he uses the traditional concept of dualism instead of deconstructing it with the material at his disposal, his narrative turns out to be contradicting his claimed intentions. The reader suspects this all the way through the book, albeit being half distracted by the diversity of motives. For Stoyanov talks of the "natural" (why natural?) opposition of the "orthodox" or "normative" religions, and of the repeated "crusades" against them. This is a simple binary opposition.

The term "crusade" itself, firstly rather irritating because of its indiscriminate use, turns out to be significant for the narrative: the climax, as was said, is indeed the actual medieval crusades against the dualist sects. Stoyanov's thinking is so much dominated by the image of dualist "currents" flowing sometimes freely, sometimes under cover, that his narrative turns out to be one about an antagonistic struggle between two religious concepts. This eternal struggle becomes evident in the remarkable showdown Stoyanov is presenting in the end (294): All these religious currents, ancient or medieval, have brought about many upsurges of religious, spiritual and cultural creativity, and contemporary religion, culture and philosophy owe to them a number of the so-called eternal themes. Insofar as these religious currents frequently produce logical and structured explanations for the origin of evil, which, for a variety of socio- religious reasons, periodically have seemed more influential and justified than their monistic counterparts, it is likely that monism will have periodically to encounter and resume its battle against the theologically dying and rising 'other god'.