Before Forgiveness

Before Forgiveness : The Origins of a Moral Idea

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In this book, David Konstan argues that the modern concept of interpersonal forgiveness, in the full sense of the term, did not exist in ancient Greece and Rome. Even more startlingly, it is not fully present in the Hebrew Bible, nor in the New Testament or in the early Jewish and Christian commentaries on the Holy Scriptures. It would still be centuries - many centuries - before the idea of interpersonal forgiveness, with its accompanying ideas of apology, remorse, and a change of heart on the part of the wrongdoer, would emerge. For all its vast importance today in religion, law, politics and psychotherapy, interpersonal forgiveness is a creation of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, when the Christian concept of divine forgiveness was fully secularized. Forgiveness was God's province and it took a revolution in thought to bring it to earth and make it a human trait.
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Product details

  • Electronic book text | 206 pages
  • Cambridge University Press (Virtual Publishing)
  • Cambridge, United Kingdom
  • English
  • 1139036661
  • 9781139036665

Table of contents

1. What is forgiveness?; 2. Before forgiveness: Greeks and Romans on guilt and innocence; 3. Did they forgive? Greek and Roman narratives of reconciliation; 4. Divine absolution: the Hebrew and Christian bibles; 5. Humility and repentance: the church fathers; 6. Enter forgiveness: the self transformed.
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About David Konstan

David Konstan is Professor of Classics at New York University and is John Rowe Workman Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Classics and the Humanistic Tradition and Professor Emeritus of Comparative Literature at Brown University. Among his most recent books are Friendship in the Classical World (1997), Pity Transformed (2001), The Emotions of the Ancient Greeks (2006) and 'A Life Worthy of the Gods': The Materialist Psychology of Epicurus (2008). He has served as president of the American Philological Association and is a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
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Review quote

Reviews of the hardback: 'Konstan's book is one of those studies that increases the reader's puzzlement and thus makes one seriously reflect on the subject-matter in question ... Konstan's book is an indispensable survey for anyone dealing with ancient ethics, not least because of the wide range of texts it introduces and discusses. It can be seen as both an interesting and challenging contribution to contemporary discussion of the ancient inspiration for modern forms of virtue ethics.' Bryn Mawr Classical Review 'This volume makes for fascinating reading and is a remarkable scholarly achievement.' Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews '... this is a thought-provoking work. The author is at his best in summarizing contemporary philosophical analysis of forgiveness as a concept, and in disabusing modern readers of reading 'forgiveness' into ancient texts.' Choice 'This book is nothing less than brilliant. Every one of its chapters contains a startlingly unexpected message, and the range of the book as a whole is enormous. At every point, David Konstan makes one think philosophically about different concepts and hence about the concept of forgiveness itself. The philosophical insight he provides is based on his perceptivity about an incredible range of texts.' Richard Sorabji, University of Oxford 'Konstan's magisterial grasp of the relevant texts and thinkers from the ancient Greek and Roman periods through early Christian and Judaic sources to the Church Fathers is extraordinary. Contemporary discussions of forgiveness often make a number of unexamined assumptions about the historical sources of this crucial moral idea ... It turns out, in Konstan's view, that the modern notion of interpersonal forgiveness - and with it a supporting web of ideas about morality, the emotions, and the self - is of quite recent vintage. Konstan also sheds light on crucial modern treatments of the idea such as those found in Shakespeare, Moliere, Butler, Kant, and Derrida, among others. His remarkable book will challenge readers to rethink their assumptions, and therefore to sharpen their answer to the much-debated question - what is forgiveness? - that lies at the heart of his inquiry.' Charles L. Griswold, Boston University
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6 ratings
4.33 out of 5 stars
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4 33% (2)
3 17% (1)
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