This innovative study sheds new light on one of the most spectacular changes to occur in late antiquity--the rise of pilgrimage all over the Christian world--by setting the phenomenon against the wide background of the political and theological debates of the time. Asking how the emerging notion of a sacred geography challenged the leading intellectuals and ecclesiastical authorities, Brouria Bitton-Ashkelony deftly reshapes our understanding of early Christian mentalities by unraveling the process by which a territory of grace became a territory of power. Examining ancient writers' responses to the rising practice of pilgrimage, Bitton-Ashkelony offers a nuanced reading of their thinking on the merits and the demerits of pilgrimage, revealing theological and ecclesiastical motivations that have been overlooked, and questioning the long-held assumption of scholars that pilgrimage was only a popular, not an elite, religious practice. In addition to Greek and Latin sources, she includes Syriac material, which allows her to build a rich picture of the emerging theology of landscape that took shape over the fourth to sixth centuries.
Brouria Bitton-Ashkelony, Senior Lecturer in Comparative Religion at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, is coeditor of Christian Gaza in Late Antiquity (2004).