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!
Prior to visiting the Ephesus Archaeological Museum in Selcuk, we were waylaid by a local who makes his living by stalking Germans, Japanese and Americans in the parking lot next to the museum. Day after day unsuspecting tourist are lured into a transparent web by this man’s nearly flawless English and his seeming kindnesses:
"Are you Americans? I have been to America! What state are you from? Washington!?!? I love Pacific Northwest! I have been to Tacoma! Please, allow me to escort you to museum. And, after you have visited our wonderful museum, I want you to come to my family’s shop for tea. No obligations, but you must come to my store for tea. No obligations."
On the whole, I am not the least bit bothered by this kind of thing. I have experienced it countless times before and in many different places. I actually have a grudging respect for aggressive barkers and I always try to be polite to them in return. Firm, but polite. Sadly, there are those rare occasions when a salesman is so good at drawing you in and convincing you his shtick is genuine, that it gets under your skin and stays with you for a very long time. It angers you. But not because of the guy. Rather, it angers you because you should know better …
In coming to Turkey I was expecting to see some amazing Hittite, Greco-Roman, and Byzantine objects. And I have. But not nearly as many as I thought I might. In truth, the general state of museums in Turkey is frustratingly poor. The archaeological museum in Istanbul is the only facility that comes anywhere near the level of its rivals in London, Athens, and Paris. Yet, in spite of this fact, the facilities in Istanbul are cramped, dark, and severely outdated. Moreover, the part of the museum that was directly related to my research on ancient libraries was closed to the public for renovation. A much needed renovation to be sure, (viz. the poor lighting and the office cube partitions in the photo below), but one that I didn’t know about until after I had already paid my entrance fee.
Statue of Celsus, Library of Celsus, Ephesus - Istanbul Archaeological Museum (Thank you, Wikipedia!)
Not unlike Greece and Egypt, Turkey has seen many of its greatest archaeological treasures placed into crates, loaded onto cargo ships, and sent to the capital cities of western Europe. One of the most notable examples of this is the wholesale removal of the so-called Pergamon Altar by the German engineer and amateur archeologist, Carl Humann, and its reconstruction at the Pergamon Museum in Berlin.
Pergamon Altar - Pergamon Museum, Berlin, Germany (Thanks again, Wikipedia!)
Like the Elgin Marbles at the British Museum, I have mixed emotions about the Pergamon Altar and the Telephos Frieze being in Berlin. On the one hand, it is a fact that the stones and structures of ancient sites have been mined by subsequent generations so as to construct newer buildings and towns, thereby destroying any chance that the ancient structures can be preserved or restored. Similarly, a lack of funds, a dearth of interest, and the ravages of time, weather, and war (here I am thinking about the Parthenon, which was nearly destroyed during the Great Turkish War in the late 17th c. and again by acid rain in the 20th c.) have all played a part in the demise, or near demise, of many archeological sites the world over. On the other hand, many of the countries that have been unceremoniously relieved of their historical and cultural patrimony by foreign governments and colonialist powers are both figuratively and literally poorer as a result. Not only do countries like Turkey lose out on the potential revenue that would be generated by having such items, but there is a profound sense of loss that is felt by citizen and visitor alike when visiting a site like Pergamon that has been mined of its greatest treasures and had them transported half a world away …
After leaving the Ephesus Archeological Museum we walked in the opposite direction of the parking lot hoping to avoid the overly aggressive barker, but he saw us from a distance and waived for us to come towards him. In response, I called to out and said: ”We are going to walk around the town for a while, but we might see you later.” Upon hearing this he gave me two thumbs-up as if to say “I understand, my gullible friends. I will see you shortly!”
About an hour later, after doubling back around the museum and approaching the parking lot from a completely different direction, we could see our rental car, a black Seat hatchback, sitting uncomfortably between two Mercedes’ tour busses. The barker was nowhere to be seen, but his presence, it must be said, could be felt. ”This is our chance.” I said in a half whisper, half yell. “GO, GO!” Positioning ourselves between the road and a third tour bus that had just entered the lot, we walked with urgency towards the car like Luke and Leia making a break for the Millennium Falcon. But when we were no more than 10 feet from the Seat a disembodied voice called out to us from the ether:
"Hello, my friends from Olympia, Washington! How did you like our beautiful museum?" The barker said with a mustachioed grin as he rematerialized from behind one of the busses.
"Well …" I made the "so-so" sign with my right hand. "It was kind of disappointing."
"Dis-a-pointing? He said with his head cocked ever so slightly to the right.
"I’m sorry if this sounds rude, but it wasn’t very good. I work with ancient sources and ancient history for a living and I have been to a lot of museums. Given how large and well preserved Ephesus is, I was expecting the exhibit to be better somehow."
"So, you have been to Ephes before? You have worked there?"
"No, I have not been there before, but I am doing research on the library of Ephesus for a book that I am writing."
"Oh." Said the man with an air of sadness and mild disinterest.
"Well … we have a lot of driving to do today and we will not be able to visit your shop, but I want to thank you for your generosity and for inviting us to tea." I said while placing my right hand over my heart.
"Yes, of course." He said as he reached out to shake my hand. "I understand." And you know what? I think he did …
After visiting the purported remains of three ancient libraries, one of which was a direct competitor of the famed Library of Alexandria, I find that I have even more questions than I did when I first started this journey.
Library of Celsus - Ephesus
In the case of Ephesus, the evidence is relatively straightforward - inscriptions at the site identify the building above as a library. In the case of Nysa, however, the architectural features of the library of Ephesus (particularly the niches, podium and triple entrance) were used to identify the structure below as a library.
Library of Nysa (facing the main entrance)
Beyond the shared architectural features, Strabo mentions that he attended school in Nysa as a young man. Moreover, a reference to Nysa by Julius Africanus in Pap Oxyrh 412 indicates that the town was one of three locations in the ancient world to possess the entire works of Homer. Taken altogether, the evidence at hand would seem to indicate that Nysa was an educational hub and home to a significant collection of literature. But did it have a library?
Library of Pergamon
Of the three sites I have visited on this trip, Pergamon is the least “library-like” of the bunch. As I stood in the ruins of this ancient center of learning reading reference after ancient reference to the literary prowess of Pergamon, I couldn’t help but feel as if I was missing something. No niches. Not much of a podium. No triple entrance. If there hadn’t been any sockets in the walls, one would be at a loss to know how to describe this room. This difficulty is further compounded by the fact that the statuary and artifacts recovered from this room are now in Berlin, such as the statue of Athena, goddess of wisdom and divine intelligence, that was found near the platform in the lower left of the photo above.
Athena Parthenos - Pergamon Museum - Berlin
Whether or not the room in question at Pergamon is a library is not entirely clear. On the one hand, the building materials at Pergamon are different than they are at Nysa and Ephesus, which may well indicate that niches were unfeasible (Was the anthracite stone used at Pergamon too difficult to manipulate into niches?). On the other hand, the ruins at Pergamon would appear to predate those of Nysa and Ephesus by up to two centuries, which suggests that niches and podiums may have been a later development in history of library architecture.
In my next post, I will attempt to share some of my research plans for the next phase of my project and offer a list of some of the questions that I intend to address in the coming months.
If you didn’t know that the room above had been identified as a library by the archaeologists who excavated Pergamon during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, you would be hard pressed to do so yourself. Unlike Ephesus and Nysa, which shared a number of architectural features, the “library” at Pergamon does not contain any niches. Rather, there are a series of 4” sockets (41” from the center of one socket to the next) that have been cut into the walls of the room (see photo above). The sockets are 79” from the ground and, based upon the extant evidence, it would appear that there were 12 sockets on at least two of the four walls (i.e., there are 12 sockets on the northwest wall and 6 on the northeast wall, which is only partially preserved).
Although the “library” at Pergamon does not appear to have had a triple entrance on the southeast side of the structure, there does appear to be the remains of a podium (c. 34” in height) and there is a raised platform in front of the northwest wall. Archaeologists recovered a large statue in close proximity to the platform (i.e., Athena Parthenos - circa 2nd c. BCE - now in the Pergamon Museum - Berlin, Germany), which, together with the sockets, podium, and the references to Pergamon’s libraries in the ancient sources, suggested to archaeologist that the room was, in fact, a library.
The sockets, so the theory goes, would have been used to affix cabinets/bookshelves to the walls. Whether these cabinets could have held the 200,000 books that Pergamon was supposed to have collected is a matter of debate. As is the identification of the room as a library …