Funerary Culture

Anne Katrine Gudme is focusing on funerary culture in the world of early Judaism and Christianity. More specifically, she is investigating the tomb as a place of communication, with a focus on funerary inscriptions and graffiti as well as on funerary rites and practices. An important aspect in this context is the commemoration of the dead.

Since ritual innovations are almost always new versions of existing cultural practices, the focus on slowly-changing funerary rites and tombs as ritual places within a larger cultural setting is illuminating for the over-all goal of the project. Rituals related to death and commemoration of the dead play an important role in the symbolic world of early Christianity. Early Christians could refer to funerary language in their ritual symbolism, and the theme of conquering death permeates early Christian thinking and practices more generally. The Eucharist involved a significant commemorative aspect, and it can be argued that many elements of funerary culture – such as the veneration of the dead, the cult of the martyrs, and funerary banquets – dominated the ritual life of early Christians during the first centuries.

The ritual competence theory formulated by Lawson and McCauley is applied to a number of archaeological case studies related to a funerary context. This theory sheds further light on archaeological and anthropological observations, since it views ritual as a category of actions that structurally mirror social actions; with the exception that one role in action is associated with a “culturally postulated superhuman being,” such as a deceased family member.

The purpose of the project is to illuminate and contextualize the ritual, social and symbolic role of the dead in the world of the early Christians.