The 18th World Congress of Jewish Studies

Oath in Inter-Communal Transactions in Antiquity: Religion, Identity, and Power

Many economic transactions in the ancient Mediterranean were safeguarded by an oath, typically invoking a deity and sometimes referring to sacred objects. Oaths, and transactions, could take place between members of a single religious community, or between members of different communities, such as Jews, Christians, Greeks, Romans and others. This raises several problems: by what divinity did the parties swear in inter-communal transactions? How, and why, did one party trust another’s oath? By what ritual were oaths sworn in such cases? What did such oaths mean for the parties’ religious identities? How do power relations between the parties influence oath choice? Texts on oaths written by Jews, Christians, and Greeks in the first centuries of the first millennium throw light on these questions, and show how oaths could be used both for creating and for dissolving boundaries.