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From Shame to Sin
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Kyle Harper is Professor of Classics and Letters at the University of Oklahoma.

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Only in the last generation have we realized the sheer, tingling drop of the canyon that lies between us and a world that we had previously tended to take for granted as directly available to our own categories of understanding. 'Revealing Antiquity, ' the Harvard University Press series edited by Glen Bowersock, has played its part in instilling in us all a healthy sense of dizziness as we peer over the edge into a fascinating but deeply strange world. Kyle Harper's book From Shame to Sin: The Christian Transformation of Sexual Morality in Late Antiquity is a scintillating contribution to this series. Not only does it measure the exact nature of the tension between the familiar and the deeply unfamiliar that lies behind our image of the sexual morality of Greeks and Romans of the Roman Empire of the classical period. It also goes on to evoke the sheer, unexpected strangeness of the very different sexual code elaborated in early Christian circles, and its sudden, largely unforeseen undermining of a very ancient social equilibrium in the two centuries that followed the conversion of Constantine to Christianity in 312... What Harper has done with this peremptory material is remarkable. He has imposed a firm narrative structure, based on the progress of the laws, on the history of sex in late antiquity... I wish that I had had a book as clear, as cogent, and as intellectually responsible as Harper's From Shame to Sin before me when I began to write on similar topics in the early 1980s, some third of a century ago. One can only envy the good fortune of those who can now embark on their own work with such a book in hand.-- (12/19/2013)

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