Theories of prayer in late antiquity: Doubts and practices from Maximos of Tyre to Isaac of Nineveh

B Bitton-Ashkelony, Derek Krueger

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


In fact, prayer is a worthy subject of study in itself. (Iamblichos, On the Mysteries 5.26)

Criticism of petitionary prayer had a long tradition in the Greek philosophical milieu. Among the late antique authors expressing skepticism about the old religious conception of petitionary prayer was the second-century sophist Maximos of Tyre (c. 125-185), himself a product of Hellenizing processes in the Roman Empire.1 As Guy Soury has crowned him, Maximos was a “platonicien éclectique” who did not adhere to any specific philosophical school, and seemed to be occupied in his Orations with a range of Platonic and Stoic issues burning and pervasive in his day.2 Maximos discussed, in a personal and exceedingly enthusiastic tone, the nature of the Good, the sources of evil, the role of daemons (as entities in the Platonic sense), and the relationship of the divine to the world of human beings.3 In his fifth oration, Maximos addressed the question: “Ought one to pray?”4 This was not the question of a bored sophist, nor was Maximos the only one in the Greco-Roman Mediterranean world to deal with the issue of the efficacy of petitionary prayer. The Orations reflect a cultural and philosophical amalgam of their times, and the topics they address overlap with the concerns of Christian authors in the second and third centuries, such as whether prayer is necessary.5 Maximos, however, remained silent about Christianity, its new alternative philosophy, and its view regarding interaction with the divine. He wrote his philosophical instructions in a provocative style to “young men,” those who had already received a certain literary education but desired “some brushing up on philosophy” as part of their general paideia, or education.6 He therefore popularized major questions dealing with ethics, theology, epistemology, and religious behavior and deliberately framed his Orations in simple terminology.
Original languageAmerican English
Title of host publicationPrayer And Worship In Eastern Christianities, 5th To 11th Centuries
EditorsB BittonAshkelony, D Krueger
Place of PublicationLondon
Number of pages24
ISBN (Electronic)9781315601977
StatePublished - 2017


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