Two generations ago, most scholars of late Roman religion shared several core, if usually implicit, assumptions: first, the imperial cult, that is to say, the veneration of the sovereign, was a decadent “oriental” practice. Next, Christianity had existed in its purest form before becoming entangled with state power. And, finally, once bishops and emperors had baptized the state, the stain of power and money had steadily corrupted the church and the “Caesaropapist state” (another decadent “oriental” regime) until the Reformation. One generation ago, J. Z. Smith helped us see these assumptions as the lingering effects of Protestant culture. More recently, Elizabeth Clark's Founding the Fathers explained how these assumptions—including their orientalism—formed...

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