Episode 63 – Byzantine Theodicy with David Gyllenhaal

An interview with David Gyllenhaal, a PHD Student at Oxford University discussing his thesis on how the 7th century changed Byzantine self conception.

Eusebius of Caesarea (from Wikipedia)

Eusebius of Caesarea (from Wikipedia)

Period: 602-695

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Categories: Podcast | 18 Comments

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18 thoughts on “Episode 63 – Byzantine Theodicy with David Gyllenhaal

  1. Priyankar Kandarpa

    Hi robin
    I just wanted to know, just how many people died in the war of 602 to 628? Did this war severely diminish the empire’s military? I believe a good supply of men was present in his conscription of the eldest son or something like that as john julius norwich talks about. Or would there have been a good supply of men?
    Thanks
    Priyankar

    • Priyankar Kandarpa

      Another question:
      Did the byzantines have laws against “blasphemy” like say the muslim arab states today? And of course iran and the east (i hope i didnt violate anyone’s sentiments)

      • They had many laws against Pagans and Jews, restricting their access to a professional career. I’m not sure if there were blasphemy laws as such but it would be unthinkable for anyone prominent to espouse non-Christian views and men were exiled or worse when convicted of heresy but as far as I know only from an official position. i.e. you were a heretic because you swore to be orthodox in your post and then went against that rather than someone in the street being dragged off for saying something wrong.

    • As you heard in the narrative, the loss of territory was very rapid from 608-15ish. So even if men were being replaced by their sons, that wasn’t much help if your son was now in the conquered portion of the Empire. Men did not all have sons of course and the situation doesn’t seem to have been universal inheritance. Some men just signed up as mercenaries and did not have a hereditary obligation. So yeah once men were killed in those battles it was very hard to replace them with someone of equal skill.

  2. Fantastic episode! This may the best one yet in terms of the end of the century episodes. Listening to it really makes me feel like I’m in the Byzantine world c. 700 A.D. One question I have (and this may not be in the purview of the podcast) is how did the Byzantine Chalcedonian Christians under the Arabs understand the events of the seventh century. Chalcedonians had their own Patriarchs in Antioch and Alexandria and were the dominant Christian faction in Jerusalem and Palestine. Did they see themselves as the “righteous remnant?”

    • That’s a very good question. I think they would have viewed themselves more like the orthodox church in exile. They were less a remnant because the Empire was still just across the border. Hopefully we will revisit those people a little when Iconoclasm hits and we see their reaction to it.

  3. Nick

    I also thought this episode was really terrific. David’s insights were extremely impressive and they give us all a lot more to think about as we move forward.

  4. Graham Podolecki

    A fascinating and informative interview Robin. I hope you’ll be able to do more of these, they’re quite enjoyable!

  5. richardmalcolm1564

    I think this was easily one of the most interesting podcasts to date. I had not ever really considered the question of theodicy and how it might have changed Byzantine self-understanding. To the extent that it might have creeped in at all, I believe I unconsciously assumed that any shift took place shortly after Constantine’s adoption of Christianity – rather than 3-4 centuries later.

    This goes back to the discussion we had in Episode 41, “Who Is a Byzantine?” And it would seem to give credence to the revisionist school, typified by Peter Heather, that sees a break in Romanness in the 7th century, particularly in the reign of Heraclius. And if Byzantium was to survive, it was almost certainly a shift that needed to happen, to give the Byzantines the fortitude needed to ride out the very ferocious storms of the 7th and 8th centuries – and beyond.

    There’s no doubt that the Byzantines thought of themselves as “Roman” to the very end, and beyond, as you have noted – with as good a claim to the title as anyone. But it’s becoming easier to make the case that this self-understanding of what “Roman” became something decisively different by the time of Heraclian dynasty, in a way that “Roman” in the reigns of Diocletian, Constantine, Theodosius, and even Justinian had not, even if the beginnings of the shift were underway.

  6. Robin-The podcast with David was great, a superb addition to an already excellent podcast (I look forward to everyone of them). I was blown away by the idea that Heraclius was able to shift the whole paradigm of Byzantine thinking from the “Good Man,” theory of rulers, pervasive in the empire for so long, to a sort of, “we are all sinners in the hands of angry God, but, hey, I can help you out,” view of the emperor’s relationship with God and his subjects. As others have pointed out this is nothing short of miraculous considering his military defeats and his scandalous marriage to the unpopular Martina. That he turned the empire’s view of itself from ancient to medieval in its thinking must rank him among one of the most influential Byzantine Emperors in spite of military defeats and failure to put an end to the conflict in the area of church dogma.”Borrowing” the Jewish idea being the “Chosen People” who have the ability to negotiate covenants with God, is a stroke of genius whether it was a happy accident or by design in the end it does not seem to matter.

    I was never really clear about the origins of Iconoclasm. One theory I had heard is that Leo III picked it up from Islam’s ban on the depiction of the human figure. His logic appears to have been, “if it works for them, it may work for us.” David’s idea of that it came from the need to continuously purify the people’s beliefs and their institutions in order to curry favor with God is an “Oh Wow!!!”

    At any rate, I hope David writes a book on the 7th Century based on his research. Both of you should stand up and take a bow for a job well done.

  7. Pingback: Robin Pierson’s Grand Strategy: The history of Byzantium podcast. | The History of the Byzantine Empire

  8. Great episode and very educational. As I was listening to it I could not help but make some parallels between the concept of covenant between God and God’s chosen people and the anti-gay and anti-abortion rhetoric of the Christian right in the U.S. By the same virtue, it seems that the God’s favor would be lost if we such practicers are allowed to go without official sanction. In fact, some might view the decline of living standards as a direct consequence of policy making that allows practices traditionally understood as anti-Christian…Anyway, thanks again for the wealth of information on-the-go.

  9. Anyone really interested in the religious side of the Old Testament covenants and their structure should consider looking at John Sailhamer’s The Meaning of the Pentateuch. He makes a convincing case that baked into the very structure of the first five books of the Bible there is an emphasis on the expectations of a Messianic king in light of the failure of the legal covenants to bring about the obedience of the people. Unfortunately, no audible version.

  10. H. Samson

    Dear Admin,

    Do you have this in a transcript as well?
    Thank you so much!

    • I’m afraid no transcript of this episode exists. However if you were seriously interested in the subject I could put you in touch with David who might be able to let you have access to his thesis.

  11. Pingback: Robin Pierson’s Grand Strategy: The history of Byzantium podcast. – If It Happened Yesterday, It's History

  12. Pingback: Robin Pierson’s Grand Strategy: The history of Byzantium podcast. – Rearview Mirror

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