Enjoying the spring break!
Happy to report that my paper proposal on ancient libraries has been accepted for this year’s SBL meeting. Have to do a bit tweaking to get the paper in shape, but I am very much looking forward to this opportunity! Here is a description of the section that I will be presenting in:
Description: This consultation investigates how insights from Book History illuminate scriptural literatures. We marshal scholars of Hebrew Bible/ANE, Judaism, Christianity, Nag Hammadi, Syriac studies, and modernity in a theoretical and historical conversation about the culturally contingent concepts of text, authorship, readership, publication, and materiality.
Call for papers: The Book History and Biblical Literatures Consultation will hold one open session and one invited session in 2014 on the theme of “Canons, Collections, Corpora: The Library as a Scholarly Category.” We invite proposals that investigate how the concept of the “library” informs both the way we analyze ancient practices of textual collection and the way we define and limit our own scholarly corpora. How can the study of libraries—as social institutions that physically preserve, organize, and make available textual material, and as conceptual ways of defining collections or canons—help us rethink the development, transmission, collection, unity or disunity, and reception of biblical and related literatures? Studies of specific libraries (or library-like entities) in antiquity and their relationship with the development of textual corpora are welcome. We welcome submissions that address the session theme and focus on any of the historical periods (from antiquity-present), geographic regions, and traditions studied by members of AAR and SBL. Examples of topics might be: What useful comparative insights could we draw from cuneiform libraries of the neo-Assyrian or Seleucid periods? Can the elements of the Pentateuch be understood in light of a Judahite or Persian “library”? In what way is the Qumran or Nag Hammadi collection a “library”? How does the study of Alexandrian scholarship and Graeco-Roman libraries shed light on the production and reception of biblical literatures? What do Syriac and Byzantine libraries contribute to our understanding of concepts of scripture and canon? How did the development of royal and, later, national libraries and associated manuscript collections shape the study of biblical literatures? Proposals that use theoretical and comparative approaches to shed light on philological and historical questions are particularly welcome. We envision a series of 20-minute papers with a respondent.
Ericka and I were in LA last week to celebrate her birthday and ring in the new year. As a part of our trip we visited the Getty Villa in Malibu. Built in the early 1970’s, the Getty Villa is a recreation of the Villa de Papyri in Herculaneum, which was buried in ash and mud by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 CE.
Main Courtyard and Peristyle - Getty Villa, Malibu
We had a fantastic time touring the grounds and watching the sun set over the Pacific. Although the exhibition does not include any information or artifacts from the library of Herculaneum, there is a wide assortment of Greek and Roman statuary, pottery and metal work on display.
Statue of a Muse - c. 200 CE - Getty Villa, Malibu
Visiting the villa puts the manuscript finds from Herculaneum into context and gives you a sense of how wealthy and privileged the owners of the original villa were (Getty was no slouch either!). There is also something compelling about seeing the layout of the building with your own eyes and comparing that image to the maps of the manuscript finds from Herculaneum that is incredibly helpful. Having the opportunity to see some priceless works of art from the Greco-Roman world doesn’t hurt either!
Mosaic of Boxers - c. 175 CE - Getty Villa, Malibu
There were, of course, many objects on display that shed light on the literacy of the times, (i.e., inscriptions on sarcophagi, statues, pottery, coins, etc.), but there were precious few objects that specifically shed light on the writing and book culture of the ancient world. One of the few that did was a relief of the age-old tug of war between myth and science:
Philosophers Plate - c. 550 CE (possibly later) - Getty Villa, Malibu
In the relief above, an Egyptian version of Hermes, (on the right), argues for the merits of myth while his scientifically minded opponent, Ptolemaios, takes notes in a diptych (i.e., a two paneled notebook coated in beeswax). Between the two disputants is a globe and behind Ptolemaios is a woman with a scroll in her hand named Skepsis. Hermes and the mysterious bearded figure at the top of the plate are also holding scrolls, although it is unclear who the latter is meant to represent. Might this be an artistic representation of the scholars of the Museum, the Library of Alexandria’s famous community of literati, or is it simply a generic image of scholarly debate and intellectual inquiry from the ancient world? However we interpret it, the representation of scrolls, a diptych, a stylus, and an intellectual debate, not to mention the writing on the plate itself, serve to illuminate the book culture and literacy of the world being depicted as well as the world of the artisan who created the plate and those who owned it.
Mladen Popovic giving the inaugural lecture at the Qumran Symposium in Groningen (December 10, 2013). The title of his talk was “From Babel to Bible: Cultural Encounters of a Third Kind.” And although his talk was in Dutch, we were provided with a Google translator version of his text, which made things interesting.
People use the phrase “gentleman and a scholar” far too often, but in Mladen’s case it is absolutely true. Looking forward to another exciting day of papers and discussions tomorrow!
The Qumran symposium opened earlier today with a visit to the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit at the Drents museum in Assen. The exhibit was well-designed, accessible to the general public and it included some things that I have never seen before, which is always a treat. In addition to a wonderful assortment of pottery, coins and fabrics, the museum had five scrolls on display: 11Q Paleo-Leviticus, 4QSd, 4Q Pesher-Isaiah, 4Q Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice, and 4Q Messianic Apocalypse.
Photo of the so-called “Roma” storage jar - Qumran Cave 7
After visiting the exhibit, the symposium’s attendees assembled in a lecture hall at the museum to listen to two presentations. In the first paper, entitled “Taming Egypt: The Impact of Persian Imperial Ideology and Politics on the Biblical Exodus Account,” Konrad Schmid convincingly argued that the “P” source in Exodus was most likely authored during the early Persian period. Shortly afterwards Bob Becking gave an engaging presentation entitled “Exchange, Replacement, or Acceptance? Two Examples of Lending Deities among Ethnic Groups in Elephantine,” in which he explored the practice of invoking/referencing Babylonian gods (Bel and Nabu) by Jews and other ethnic communities in southern Egypt.
A meta moment with Mladen
All in all, this was a wonderful way to start the week. The exhibit was world-class and the presentations were engaging and thoughtful. If today’s papers are anything to go by, the rest of the symposium should be enlightening and informative.
On Friday I leave for Holland to attend the third annual Qumran Symposium at Groningen University. The timing of this trip is a little bit challenging (i.e., smack dab in the middle of finals week), but the chance to attend this meeting and see my good friend, Mladen Popovic, was simply too good to pass up. More important than this, however, is the fact that Mladen and I will have a chance to discuss our new, top-secret project.
Although my upcoming meeting with Mladen looks like this in my brain:
It will actually look like this:
"Geeks! Why does it always have to be geeks?"
In any case, stay tuned for photos from the symposium, comments about the papers and a report from the Dead Sea Scrolls exhibit in Assen.
Here are the relevant links for those who are interested:
St Andrews, Scotland - Gave a paper on ritual innovations and ancient burial practices at the University of St. Andrews on Thursday, July 11. Felt like it went pretty well, but I was a bit pressed for time during the presentation. Probably should have done a couple of dry runs first.
Essentially, I argued that the shaft burials in the Qumran cemetery represent a ritual innovation with regard to the transmission of corpse impurity and a tacit criticism of the prevailing burial practices of Jews during the Second Temple period (i.e., reburial in ossuaries).
The discussion period at the end of the session was really rewarding. The folks in attendance immediately started to ask questions about my paper and we ended up focusing on my work for the first 7 or 8 minutes of the panel discussion. The overall vibe in the room was positive and very supportive.
The other presenters in the session included (from right to left) James Watts, Gerald Klingbeil, and Reinhard Achenback. The session was moderated by Roy Gane.
Now that the spring semester has drawn to a close, I plan to return to my work on ancient libraries as soon as possible. Before I do so, however, I have to direct a week-long program on Gnosticism in Greco-Roman Egypt and write a medium length piece on purity and burial practices in ancient Judaism for an upcoming conference in Scotland. After that I need to write a short piece on John the Baptist for the SBL’s Bible Odyssey project.
So … I guess what I am trying to say is this: it might be a couple of months before I get back to my work on ancient libraries. The good news is that I have already written the rough draft of a 10,000 word piece on the archaeology of ancient libraries and Qumran, which will be included in an edited volume to be published by Brill in 2014. The bad news is that I wrote that piece in the fall of 2012 and I am already starting to feel a little bit rusty on the details.
Well, I guess that I had better get back to my research on Jewish ossuaries and secondary burials. Talk to you soon!
So, I am about halfway done with an article that will become the basis for the first chapter of my new book on ancient libraries. The article, which is entitled “Is it a Library? Qumran: A Test Case”, examines the criteria currently being used in the fields of Classical Studies, Levantine Archaeology, and Library Science to determine whether or not certain architectural features and artifacts from the Hellenistic and Roman periods are indicative of a library. In using Khirbet Qumran as a test case I hope to simultaneously evaluate the usefulness of the criteria and determine whether or not there is sufficient evidence to identify the Dead Sea Scrolls and Khirbet Qumran as the remains of an ancient library.
Having scrutinized two of the tests that are used to identify ancient libraries, (i.e., the presence of dedicatory inscriptions and references to libraries in ancient sources), I am now contemplating the architectural features of Greco-Roman libraries and whether or not any of these features are present at Qumran.
Present in virtually all known Roman libraries, niches were the library stacks of the ancient world. Simultaneously housing books and protecting them from unauthorized access and dampness, the niche was considered to be a vital and necessary feature of libraries in the Roman period. Of the three photos above, two have been positively identified as libraries. The third, which has yet to be identified as a library, was found near one most significant manuscript discoveries of all time. If you want a hint as to which is which, just look for the one with the smiling Dutchman. Even he doesn’t know if that niche was used to store books!