Susan Ashbrook Harvey

in Scenting Salvation

Published by University of California Press

Published in print July 2006 | ISBN: 9780520241473
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520931015 | DOI:

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Christianity began in a world where smells mattered. They mattered for what they did and what they meant. Smells affected what or whom they touched, rendering them attractive, repulsive, soothing, or dangerous. They revealed things about the object, person, or place from which they drifted. Smells mattered because they were invisible, they were transitory, they were mobile, they lingered, and because of their potency to change substance, experience or meaning. Ancient Christians shared in wide traditions regarding olfactory sensibilities, indications, and practices. Furthermore, there was general agreement across Mediterranean people as to what constituted good and bad smells, enabling the proliferation of olfactory practices that displayed and expressed these associations as cultural codes. These codes were not based on symbolism as a disembodied language, but on the concrete view that smells participated in effecting the processes they represented.

Keywords: Christianity; smells; Mediterranean; symbolism; cultural codes

Chapter.  3737 words. 

Subjects: Religion in the Ancient World

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