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Abstract

This essay suggests ways to refine the concept of “competition” as a scholarly lens for analyzing religion in the ancient Mediterranean. It applies Bruno Latour’s critique of “the social” as an explanatory agent to the much used but rarely clarified concept “social competition.” Conceptualizing ancient data as competition can, and at times has, encouraged the projection of distinct groups and “sides” for which we have little to no empirical evidence. Keeping analysis “flat,” in Latour’s terms, can prevent this and push analysis of competition more secure, and potentially more useful directions. Pliny’s Epistle 10.96 to Trajan on Christians is analyzed as an example of a “flat” approach and the common assumption that this letter alludes to “human sacrifice” is questioned.

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