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Cover of: Misusing Books
Jeremiah Coogan

Misusing Books

Section: Articles
Volume 8 (2022) / Issue 3, pp. 301-316 (16)
Published 17.03.2023
DOI 10.1628/rre-2022-0020
Books are more than vehicles for textual content. They are objects of economic value and social significance, embedded in complex networks of production and use. Recent historical scholarship on lived religion in the Roman Mediterranean has expanded beyond traditional conversations about theological concepts and scriptural interpretations, but this critical turn sometimes neglects material texts as sacred and powerful objects. Addressing this lacuna in light of Roman book culture, the present article re-reads several ancient reports about the misuse of textual objects. Accounts of the burned books of Numa Pompilius, of the powerful codex of Elchasai, and of the writings destroyed because of Diocletian's edicts each reflect Roman discourses about material texts and appropriate religious practice. People in the Roman Mediterranean used these stories to think about material texts as objects of divine power and sacred significance.