Sunday, February 12, 2017

Review of MacRae, Legible Religion

Duncan MacRae, Legible Religion. Books, Gods, and Rituals in Roman Culture. Cambridge, MA; London: Harvard University Press, 2016. Pp. 259. ISBN 9780674088719. $49.95.

Reviewed by Lindsay G. Driediger-Murphy, University of Calgary (


This is an excellent and important book. Duncan MacRae’s aim is to illuminate the centrality of Late Republican writings about religion (especially those lost and fragmentary texts usually described as ‘antiquarian’ or ‘technical’) to both Roman and modern understandings of what constituted ‘Roman religion’. This work encourages a re-evaluation of the place and significance of texts in Roman religion, and is sure to generate further progress in this field.

Ancient Judaism figures in the discussion:
Part 2, ‘Comparison’, comprises one of the most innovative chapters of the book, a comparison between the Roman civil theological writings and the Mishnah. Whilst acknowledging the significant differences between Roman and Jewish religious priorities and theologies, MacRae argues convincingly that we see in both Late Republican Rome and the writings of the rabbis the desire to textualize religion, and to present this textual instantiation as the definitive or normative version of each religion.