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Conclusion: Constructing and reifying the heathen other

Egyptian religion by the middle of the fourth century was largely indefinable for Christian opponents. Beyond those cults that continued in diminished splendour, offering festival processions, oracles, and ritual attention to the Nile surge (and hardly objecting to Christian practices in their locales), the traditional religious attitudes of ordinary people focused on landscape, time and festival, rituals of health and protection, and any potent means for discerning divine guidance. The evidence from late antique religion in Egypt suggests that Christian leaders did not oppose this sphere of traditional Egyptian religion but, rather, articulated Christianity in its terms: new landscapes of martyrs' shrines, healing and protective spells in Christian idiom, Christian divination centres. Yet hagiographies suggest that ecclesiastical caricatures of heathen cult as a horrific theatre of blood-sacrifice contributed to perceptions of Egyptian cults as well; and such caricatures sanctioned acts of iconoclastic violence in the decades following the destruction of the Serapeum. For the monks and philoponoi who committed these deeds, demolition of heathen cults extirpated the memory of Julian and the legendary horrors of Diocletian. Demolition purified the landscape while forcing those who might imagine themselves participants in both religions - certainly a plausible and typical scenario - to choose sides. Finally, demolition and iconoclasm of traditional temples offered violently schismatic groups the possibility of a common focus.

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